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North Melbourne great Phil Krakouer is among a group of seven Indigenous former footballers who have launched a class action against the AFL for alleged racist abuse during their playing days.
In documents lodged in the Supreme Court on Friday, the players, all now retired but employed between 1975 and 2022, accuse the AFL of failing to stop, and protect them, from racial taunts which they claim led to life-altering damage.
Krakouer, now 63, lit up the then VFL when he and brother Jim crossed from Claremont in Western Australia to join the Kangaroos in 1982. Phil played 141 games (224 goals) until 1989. He then had two seasons with the Western Bulldogs, managing only seven games (seven goals).
Days gone by: Jim and Phil Krakouer were two of the AFL’s most exciting players in the AFL in the 1980s.Credit: Fairfax Media
“This case means we are finally being heard. Racism has been swept under the carpet for too long. For decades, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people of colour have been racially abused while playing AFL, and we feel the AFL sat back and watched it all go by,” Mr Krakouer said.
“I was a 22-year-old kid that tried out for the big league. I was completely naïve and full of dreams. I was hoping that great things were going to happen. It was a professional sport and the AFL allowed us to be abused and traumatised. We signed up to play football, not to be racially abused. Racism is not part of the game. It goes so far beyond sledging.
“Myself, and others, have been deeply affected by not only the comments that were made to us. The lack of support from the AFL made it worse. We want our experience to be validated by the AFL. We don’t want to feel like victims anymore. All we were doing was playing footy.
“The AFL had the power to stop it, and they have the power to stop it ever happening again. Sorry doesn’t cut it. They have to make sure this never occurs again, for everyone. You can’t improve present and the future without addressing the past.”
AFL spokesman Jay Allen said on Friday night the league had not been served any papers.
Taking a stand: Michael Long, Nova Maree Peris, Kyle Vander Kuyp and Phil Krakouer during the “Walk the Talk” presentation” in 2017.Credit: Fairfax Media
“The AFL has not been served with any documents or been provided with any information regarding a class action that has apparently been provided to the media. If any formal correspondence is served on us we will review it,” Allen said.
“Until that occurs, we are unable to make any comment.”
Margalit Injury Lawyers managing principal Michel Margalit, who is also running a class action against the AFL for concussion and brain trauma, confirmed she was acting for seven Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and/or people of colour who played football or were employed or engaged by the VFL and AFL between 1975 and 2022, who experienced racism, racial vilification, racial discrimination, racial abuse or victimisation in what was the VFL, and now AFL.
However, the names of the six other players involved in the action will not be released until the case has a hearing in court.
Krakouer’s writ claims he suffered “long-term emotional harm and distress leading to persisting psychiatric illness”, but he does not list alleged offenders or specific instances of racism.
“The plaintiff has incurred medical and like expenses, full particulars of which will be provided prior to trial. The plaintiff’s employment capacity has been impaired by reason of the injury,” the writ says.
The writ lists each VFL-AFL club from his time playing, including the now defunct Fitzroy Lions and Brisbane Bears, but not the Brisbane Lions.
Krakouer says the AFL should have taken action “to impose sanctions and penalties against clubs, cheer squads and spectators for participating in the impugned conduct against the Plaintiff and group members during their engagement.”
Ms Margalit said “racial vilification has been a known tactic of play within AFL games”.
“This tactic is reprehensible and has caused lifelong scars to our clients. The AFL failed to take adequate action, even in the face of laws condemning such behaviour,” Ms Margalit said.
“Our clients have courageously shared their deeply personal stories of racial vilification suffered throughout their AFL careers. The racial abuse suffered by players was extreme – not just words, but repugnant physical acts such as spitting and violence. The AFL was aware of this racial abuse and, as the keeper of the code, failed to take decisive action to protect players.
“These players often began playing AFL football as teenagers. They were there to play football and live out their dreams. Instead, they were taunted and racially vilified and left out in the cold to defend themselves.”
Ms Margalit said while the AFL had taken steps to address racism in the sport, this had not helped players from decades past. She said the AFL knew, or ought to have known, of the immediate and long-term adverse consequences of experiencing racial vilification, both physical and verbal, and expects more players to join the class action.
The class action comes in a season when a report into historical claims of racism at the Hawthorn Football Club rocked the sport. The AFL reached an agreement with the families involved and apologised for past instances of racism in the game.
Former Hawthorn officials Alastair Clarkson, Chris Fagan and Jason Burt were cleared of any wrongdoing under AFL rules, and all strenuously denied allegations that they mistreated First Nations players and their partners at the Hawks between 2010 and 2016. However, families at the centre of the investigation are pursuing their claims in the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Collingwood was also embroiled in a racial storm for alleged historical offences in 2021, leading to the Do Better report, and significant change.
St Kilda great Nicky Winmar famously took a defiant stand against racism at Victoria Park in 1993 when he lifted his jumper and pointed to his skin, while Michael Long’s decision to launch an official complaint against Magpies ruckman Damien Monkhorst after the Anzac Day clash in 1995 is seen as pivotal moment in the AFL’s bid to change cultural attitudes.
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