Former Gold Coast Suns player Joel Wilkinson is preparing to sue the AFL over alleged racial vilification and sexual harassment during his playing career.
Foundation Suns defender Wilkinson, a player of Nigerian descent who was delisted after featuring in 26 games in three seasons, last played AFL in 2013.
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Brisbane-based Shine Lawyers said legal action will be filed to the Human Rights Commission after talks with the AFL broke down.
The case is to allege Wilkinson was subjected to discrimination by AFL staff, Suns club officials and teammates, as well as opponents and spectators.
His lawyers also claim he bore the brunt of “racially motivated sexual harassment in the changerooms by other players on numerous occasions”.
The AFL responded in a statement released late on Wednesday night.
“We are sorry that Mr. Wilkinson suffered experiences of racial abuse during his time as an AFL footballer,” the statement read.
“He has previously shared his experience of racial abuse, helping educate the community via a series of social awareness videos produced with the AFL.
“We respect a person’s right to pursue claims through the legal system. We will continue to work with Joel to seek to resolve this matter.”
Shine’s employment law expert, Will Barsby, said the league failed in its duty of care and allowed the “racial abuse, sexual taunting in the locker room, bullying and mistreatment” to continue, despite repeated requests for help.
Mr Barsby said the AFL failed to protect Wilkinson from vilification beginning with his first game, when he debuted at 19 in 2011.
“In Australia playing AFL is a full-time job for many young people and like any job there are laws to protect your rights in the workplace,” he said.
“The AFL isn’t exempt from these laws just because it is a national pastime. Sport is a business, players are employees.
“(The AFL) have let our client down and allowed the abuse to continue, it’s cut short his career and he’s been punished for speaking out being shunned by clubs for his stance against racism.”
Wilkinson’s case also alleges he wasn’t offered further employment with the AFL or Suns due to his outspoken ways targeting racism.
In February 2016 Wilkinson signed an NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals, but was cut not long after.