'You don't get it': Aussie star's powerful response to racism question

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor
Bruce Djite delivered a powerful response to the issue of racism in Australian sport. Image: Q&A

Former Socceroos star Bruce Djite has delivered a powerful message about racism in Australian sport, calling for change in the hierarchy of our major codes.

Monday night’s episode of Q&A focused on the future of Australian sport but specifically examined the issue of racism within it.

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NRL CEO Andrew Abdo, Richmond Football Club CEO Brendon Gale, broadcaster and journalist Tracey Holmes, Australian netball and AFLW star Sharni Layton, and Adelaide United Director of Football Djite were all tasked with trying to address why racism still exists in Australian sport.

Djite pointed out a “lack of cultural competence” at the top of every major code, saying change would come about much slower as a result.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s about racism. I tell you now, if there was an Indigenous person on the AFL Commission, or as AFL CEO, during the time where Adam Goodes was getting racially vilified, it would have had a different reaction. The guy might still be actively involved in the sport,” said Djite.

“If there were more women in high powered positions, entrenched in the sporting game, (women’s sport) would have greater media coverage; it would have greater investment.

“Without the people with the context knowledge – you can read all the content, you can be across it all you like, you can read a thousand books – if you haven’t felt it and don’t have that context knowledge, then you don’t get it. It’s impossible.

“It’s like me trying to understand what it’s like to be a female. I can listen. I can learn. But I can never feel what it’s like. I will never have that context knowledge.

“So while there’s intelligent people, extremely smart people, extremely influential people in the hierarchy, as players, as administrators – if they don’t have the context knowledge, if we don’t entrench these people in the hierarchies of our sports, then change may come.

“But it will come much slower, with many more regrets, than if those people with those lived experience were in those positions.”

Bruce Djite in action for Adelaide United in 2014. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Why racism still exists in Australian sport

Racism is at the forefront of discussion in Australian sport at the moment, with NRL and AFL players taking a knee before games last weekend in a show of solidarity for the fight against racism.

Former Collingwood player Heritier Lumumba stoked debate last week with fresh allegations against the club, while Adelaide Crows player Eddie Betts has once again been targeted by disgusting abuse in recent days.

Lumumba claimed he experienced a “culture of racist jokes” and behaviour throughout his 10 years with the Magpies.

“We all watched what happened to Adam Goodes when he dispelled the silence on racism in the AFL. All the right people said ‘Never again,’” said questioner Melissa O’Donnell.

“Yet against the backdrop of Black Lives Matter, we’re revisiting the shocking racism and the gaslighting that Heritier Lumumba experienced during his time at Collingwood.

“And it’s clear that Collingwood still fail to fully comprehend exactly what he is calling out.

“My question is, at what point do the AFL and the NRL see themselves as part of, and active participants in, the structural racism of our system, take full accountability for that, and perhaps even lead us in the repair and the dismantling processes we so desperately need?”

NRL CEO Abdo acknowledged that racism still exists in sport.

“Let me first start by saying and acknowledging racism exists. It exists in our society and in sport. There’s no denying that,” the interim CEO said.

“I think if you have a look at what’s happened across not just the AFL and NRL, across society, we have instances where individuals are victimised and we need to do more. Players need to feel safe. They have an opportunity to express themselves and express what they believe in.

“As a code, if we can align and be really united on the inside, then we can run what exists on the outside. What I mean by that is we stand for inclusivity. It’s core to what rugby league is about. Can we do more? Absolutely.”

Bruce Djite calls for more education

Djite said there needs to be more education for players.

“Look, there’s no doubt that racism exists. At times it’s more dormant than others. In this current period, we are in the very divisive phase,” Djite said.

“People are more willing and able to come out and actually say what they’re thinking. At other times, where things are more calm, people have the same thoughts but they’re not articulating them. But the racism is still there.

“I think it starts with education. I really do. It’s only been the last couple of weeks when this Black Lives Matter movement has really come to Australia. And we start talking about Aboriginals and the Indigenous and what they’ve been through.

“I think sport is in a particular place where it’s able to improve society, and society cannot be improved if you are not giving a hand up to help the people who have been left behind.

“And it’s time for the platitudes to stop and for action to be taken. And for organisations to be judged on the actions they take, not the words that they speak.”