Open letter calls on Eddie Maguire to resign over failure to address racism

The letter - signed by federal politicians, writers and sportspeople - states the Collingwood President is 'incapable' of leading change in the wake of a devastating leaked report

Gudamulli!

There are growing calls for Eddie Maguire to resign immediately following his complete failure to deal, or even address, the reality of systemic racism entrenched in his own club. The latest is an open letter signed by several high profile writers, academics, actors, sportspeople and even federal politicians who are calling for substantive change from the top down.

The treatment of Heritier Lumumba by Collingwood, and by the media and public, has provided a space in which we can speak of systemic racism and its impact. It also provides us with an opportunity to push for real change, right now, first in the form of this resignation, but then in the calls for Collingwood to ‘Do Better’. I thought Francis Awaritefe - a former Socceroo and signatory to today’s open letter - put it well when he said the report was a ‘watershed’ moment, but that there must be the substantive and lasting change that goes beyond just a resignation.

But I’ve also been thinking of all the stories that do not gain traction. I’ve been thinking about the Bowraville families, who yesterday received news that a new programme for DNA testing could be the next avenue in their continual fight for justice. It’s been over two decades since three Aboriginal children - Colleen Walker, 16, Clinton Speedy Duroux, 16 and Evelyn Greenup, 4, were found murdered. All of them had disappeared from Bowraville mission within months of each other. Colleen’s body was never found and her family have never been able to put her to rest.

There has only ever been one suspect charged in connection with their deaths - and yet due to a bungled original police investigation and failures of the justice system - spurred largely by racism and apathy - there has never been any justice. This story is an example of systemic racism that has had real, lasting effects, that has compounded trauma and is ever-present, and yet the Bowraville families have often been hindered by the fact that Australia - as a whole - has refused to look or partake in displays of public mourning shown in similar cases. The Bowraville families have not just been fighting to assert the humanity of their children, to assert their right to justice, in the courts and police stations, but also to the public.

I’m also thinking this week of the family of Aboriginal man Dwayne Johnstone. In 2019, Dwayne was on remand having been refused bail in Lismore, when he suffered an epileptic fit in his cell. He was taken to Lismore Base Hospital, where he was shot in the back by a correctional officer as he allegedly tried to escape. Johnstone was handcuffed and had ankle cuffs on.

Last year, A coroner referred his death back to the DPP and yesterday it was announced that the officer in question had been charged with manslaughter in connection to his death. As the case is now before the courts, we have to be careful. I’ll be following the case as it progresses.

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Open Letter calls for Eddie Maguire’s resignation

My piece, originally published in The Guardian today

Federal politicians, writers, academics and former sporting greats, including AFL star Nathan Lovett-Murray and Socceroo Francis Awaritefe, have called on the Collingwood president, Eddie McGuire, to resign immediately, stating in an open letter their belief that he is “incapable” of stamping out systemic racism at the club.

The letter is the latest salvo in growing calls for the club to take responsibility to address racism following the release of a damning report which found systemic racism was endemic at the club.

The report, led by UTS distinguished professor Larissa Behrendt, found Collingwood had often acted defensively and “doubled down” when racist incidents were aired in the media.

Responding to the report at a press conference last week, McGuire claimed it was a “proud” and “historic” day for the club. He insisted Collingwood was not a “racist” or “mean spirited” club. He later apologised for those initial comments but calls for McGuire’s resignation have grown.

Last week, Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton also called on McGuire to resign.

The open letter – signed by Greens senator Lidia Thorpe, federal Labor MPs Peter Khalil and Anne Aly, as well as writers Maxine Beneba Clarke, Tony Birch, Omar Sakr and prominent Aboriginal historian Dr Gary Foley, among others – adds further pressure on the club.

“We believe there are administrators, staff, fans and members of the Collingwood Football Club who truly wish to see it transcend its history. This can only happen with a radical shift in leadership,” the letter states.

“We believe Eddie McGuire has proven himself incapable of leading the Collingwood Football Club through any meaningful transformation. We call on him to step down immediately.”

The Do Better report was sparked by the testimony of former Collingwood player Héritier Lumumba, who has complained he was subject to racist nicknames and was ostracised by the club when he spoke out.

Lumumba has said the report vindicated his concerns but the club’s response to it was “shameful”.

The letter calls out Collingwood’s response, stating that “racism is not a series of gaffes or mishaps that can simply be brushed aside”.

“The Collingwood Football Club’s response to the leaked Do Better report is unacceptable and insulting to those who have suffered vilification by the club,” it states.

“A finding of systemic racism is not an excuse for powerful individuals to avoid accountability by blaming a lack of policies and procedures. It is an indictment of a fundamentally dysfunctional culture that develops when powerful individuals fail to act responsibly.”

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, a proud Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman, said: “for too long his club, led by Eddie Maguire, has been at the forefront of systemic, discriminatory racism”.

”Sports clubs and their leaders are meant to be role models in our community. How are we allowing people like Eddie McGuire, in such high positions of power, to continue with his leadership role? Eddie’s got to go.”

Chair of Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) and former Socceroo Francis Awaritefe said the report was a ‘watershed’ moment but called for greater change. He highlighted the need for “deep-seated, substantive, systemic and cultural change” which moved beyond “mere resignations of a few culpable industry figures”.

“Australian sporting institutions and the AFL industry must, as a minimum, make a binding commitment to respect and to embed the internationally recognised human rights of those who participate in, or are involved in, the delivery of sporting events into their governance framework.  This is a minimum, a first step in preventing and mitigating salient human rights risks and to also leverage the power of sports as a force for social and cultural good,” Awaritefe said.

Munanjahli academic Prof Chelsea Watego, another signatory on the letter, also spoke to the need for us to stand with victims of racism by demanding action: “When a person of colour speaks publicly about racism we know it has taken a lot - not of courage, but a lot of racism. Thus, when they speak, it is not enough just to believe or sympathise with them; we must act, immediately. All of us.”

The letter also expresses support for Lumumba and other black and Indigenous AFL players who have spoken out against racism. It calls on the club to implement the 18 recommendations in the report.

It says Collingwood’s major sponsors – Nike, CGU Insurance, Emirates, La Trobe Financial and Coles – should also “make clear and unequivocal statements rejecting racism” in the wake of the report’s release.

The signatories are listed below:

First Nations signatories:

Senator Lidia Thorpe (Gunnai-Gunditjmara), Australian Greens

Dr Gary Foley (Gumbaynggirr), academic, Victoria University

Dr Tony Birch (Fitzroy Blak), author and academic, winner, Patrick White Literary Award 2017

Nathan Lovett-Murray (Gunditjmara / Yorta Yorta/ Wemba Wemba), Indigenous mentor, coach, and former player, St Kilda Football Club, great-grandson of SirDoug Nicholls

Mick Gooda (Ghangulu / Yiman), former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner

Roxanne Moore (Noongar), Executive Officer, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services 

Shari Sebbens (Bardi, Jabirr Jabirr), artist

Jack Latimore (Birpai - Thungutti), journalist, Managing Editor Digital, NITV

Celeste Liddle (Arrernte), writer and social commentator

Eugenia Flynn (Larrakiah/ Tiwi), writer, arts worker and community organiser

Meriki Onus (Gunnai-Gunditjmara), writer, WAR (Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance)

Associate Professor Chelsea Bond (Munanjahli/ South Sea Islander), academic, Institute of Collaborative Race Research

Jason Tamiru (Yorta Yorta), producer, grandson of SirDoug Nicholls

Jacynta Krakouer (Noongar (Minang)), academic, University of Melbourne

Luke Pearson (Gamilaroi), CEO, IndigenousX

Tarneen Onus Williams (Noongar), community organiser

Kiernan Ironfield (Darug), artist

Kee’ahn (Kuku Yalanji, Jirrbal, Badu Islander), musician

Neil Morris (Yorta Yorta), musician

Jamahl Yami Brodie - Chong (Waanyi), artist

Sue-Anne Hunter (Wurundjeri), social worker

Dr Crystal McKinnon (Yamaji), WAR (Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance), academic, RMIT

Dr Marlene Longbottom, academic, University of Wollongong

Paola Balla (Wemba-Wemba & Gunditjmara), academic and artist, Victoria University

Holly Charles, PhD candidate

Pauline Whyman (Yorta Yorta), theatre/film practitioner

Laura La Rosa, (Darug), writer

Kim Kruger, academic, former AFL Club employee

Dr Vicki Couzens (Gunditjmara), artist/ academic

Allara Briggs Pattison (Yorta Yorta), musician

Genevieve Grieves (Worimi), artist and academic

Nathan Bird (Butchulla), artist/Academic

Julie Gough (Trawlwoolway), artist

Sue Ellen Radford (Ngarrindjeri), mental health social worker

Timmah Ball (Noongar), writer

Natalie Harkin (Narungga), academic

Also signed by:

Senator Mehreen Faruqi, Australian Greens

Peter Khalil MP, Labor Member for Wills

Anne Aly MP, Labor Member for Cowan

Francis Awaritefe, chair of Professional Footballers Australia (PFA), former Socceroo and National Soccer League player

Benjamin Law, writer and broadcaster

Yumi Stynes, author

Omar Sakr, poet, winner, 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Award

Ghassan Hage, academic

Maxine Beneba Clarke, writer

Aamer Rahman, writer/ comedian

Candy Bowers, artist & producer, Multicultural Arts Victoria

Sisonke Msimang, writer

Randa Abdel-Fattah, author and academic

Sara M. Saleh, human rights activist, writer and poet, winner of the 2021 Peter Porter Poetry Prize

N’fa Forster-Jones, artist, academic and former athlete

Shakira Hussein, writer and researcher, The University of Melbourne

Ruby Hamad, author and academic

Antoun Issa, journalist

Magan Magan, writer and poet

Dr Oishee Alam, researcher

Ruth De Souza, academic and researcher, RMIT

Leah Jing McIntosh, editor, Liminal Magazine

Adrian Naidu, artist

Pataphysics, artist, producer and lecturer 

Dr. David Singh, researcher, Institute for Collaborative Race Research

Natalie Kon-yu, academic, Victoria University

Tasnim Sammak, PhD candidate

Yassmin Abdel-Magied, writer and broadcaster

Samah Sabawi, artist and playwright 

Yanni Jiang, Anticolonial Asian Alliance

Robert Wood, chair, PEN Perth

Dr Maria Giannacopoulos, academic, Flinders University

Sarah Ayoub, academic and writer

Annie Te Whiu, writer and producer

Carolyn D'Cruz, academic, La Trobe University

Adalya Nash Hussein, writer and editor, Voiceworks Magazine