'Our failures': AFL offers groundbreaking apology to Adam Goodes

The AFL has apologised unreservedly for its failure to call out the racism that drove Adam Goodes into retirement in 2015.

The league admitted on Friday, shortly before the premiere of documentary The Final Quarter, that its inaction "let down all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, past and present".

A statement attributed to the AFL and all 18 clubs - on behalf of members, administrators, staff and players - apologised for "our failures".

"Failure to call out racism and not standing up for one of our own," it said.

"Adam, who represents so much that is good and unique about our game, was subject to treatment that drove him from football. The game did not do enough to stand with him, and call it out.

"Through Adam's story, we see the personal and institutional experience of racism. We see that Australia's history of dispossession and disempowerment of First Nation's people has left its mark.

"Racism, on and off the field, continues to have a traumatic and damaging impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and communities.

"We are unified on this, and never want to see the mistakes of the past repeated."

Ian Darling's film, made entirely from archive footage, revisits the final three seasons of Goodes' 372-game career.

The movie includes part of AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan's belated public response to widespread booing of the 2014 Australian of the Year.

In 2015, McLachlan refused to describe the jeers as racism.

On Friday, an apologetic McLachlan conceded he was wrong.

"I should have called it earlier and been clearer," the AFL boss said on 3AW.

Adam Goodes retired at the end of the 2015 season and withdrew from the public eye. Pic: Getty

Goodes' championing of issues outside football, such as Indigenous constitutional recognition, and celebration of Indigenous culture in the form of a war cry at the SCG is documented in the film.

As is the fiercely negative response from some pundits, the boos and explanations proffered by those insisting it had nothing to do with race.

Reconciliation Australia chief executive Karen Mundine hopes the documentary is a catalyst for conversation and change that extends beyond AFL circles.

"Adam is such a strong and resilient person," Mundine told AAP, describing the film as upsetting, uncomfortable and important.

"I was always amazed during that period of time, how he managed to remain true to himself but continued to be vocal.

"I really want this film to be a new conversation starter. Not just a rehash ... what do we need to change or do differently.

"So we don't have another person driven out of game or somebody in a workplace feeling so isolated and put upon they leave an industry."

Swans supporter Mundine and Michael O'Loughlin, Goodes' close friend and former teammate, were among the first to see Darling's final cut.

"I really hope it starts positive conversations around race relations in this country," Mundine said, having been involved in reconciliation for more than 20 years.

"What racism looks like, what it feels like.

"I felt specifically for Adam. The film also felt representative of things that we as Aboriginal people experience on a regular basis ... that isolation, not being welcomed."

Read the AFL's statement in full below

The history of the game says that Australian Rules has officially been played for 161 years.

Yet, for many years before, Aboriginal history tells us that traditional forms of football were played by Australia’s first peoples all over Australia, most notably in the form of Marngrook in the Western Districts of Victoria. It is Australia’s only Indigenous football game – a game born from the ancient traditions of our country. It is a game that is proudly Australian.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players are some of the most extraordinary players that the game has seen, and football has played a part in positive social change for many people and communities.

2019 will see the release of two important films about football, racism and discrimination. The films focus on the treatment of Adam Goodes, one of the game’s greatest champions, and tell the story of Australia’s history with the First Peoples of this land.

Through Adam’s story, we see the personal and institutional experience of racism. We see that Australia’s history of dispossession and disempowerment of First Nation’s people has left its mark, and that racism, on and off the field, continues to have a traumatic and damaging impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and communities.

The treatment of Adam challenges us, and our right to be considered Australia’s indigenous football code. Adam, who represents so much that is good and unique about our game, was subject to treatment that drove him from football. The game did not do enough to stand with him, and call it out.

We apologise unreservedly for our failures during this period.

Failure to call out racism and not standing up for one of our own, let down all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, past and present.

Our game is about belonging. We want all Australians to feel they belong and that they have a stake in the game. We will not achieve this while racism and discrimination exists in our game.

We pledge to continue to fight all forms of racism and discrimination, on and off the field.

We will stand strongly with all in the football community who experience racism or discrimination.

We will listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players and communities to learn about the impact of racism and in doing so, we will gain a deeper understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

We will continue to work to ensure a safe and inclusive environment wherever our game is played.

And we urge all Australians, and in particular our supporters and fans, to see these films with open hearts and minds and learn from the experience and leadership of Adam Goodes, just as we are.

We are unified on this, and never want to see the mistakes of the past repeated.

with AAP