AFL: Casual racism at the footy

April 30, 2015
Bachar Houli was racially smeared by 3AW's John Burns.

In the AFL’s nationalistic carnival, the Anzac Round, the Melbourne Demons and Richmond Tigers were lining up for their game on April 24. One of the Tigers players Bachar Houli, is one of the AFL’s “multicultural ambassadors”.

He is also the first practicing Muslim to play in the AFL.

Elsewhere, Houli was being described quite differently. John Burns, radio broadcaster for Melbourne’s 3AW was reported to have labelled him a “terrorist”. The comment was overheard at a Richmond Football Club function by a senior club staffer and subsequently reported.

Burns has since issued an apology, tempered with a statement that he has “no recollection of making an offensive remark”.

The apology was further weakened by a later comment that his apology was directed “in particular, to the people at the match and the Richmond Football Club”.

Two aspects of Burns’ apology make it more of a problem than the initial comment.

First, Burns says that he cannot remember making the comment, which, if both parties are correct, suggests that such comments made against a Muslim person are unremarkable and quite standard. Such racism is too commonplace to be memorable.

Second, Burns’ apology is entirely misplaced. He accused Houli of being a terrorist, not the Richmond Football Club of being a terrorist organisation. The apology should be directed to Houli because Houli was the victim of the slur.

Richmond Football Club has said that they accept Burns’ apology, that they stand by their staffer’s allegations against him and that to them, the matter is now “closed”. The AFL’s desire to have the ugly matter of racism behind them seems to be greater than their desire to have it sorted correctly.

Houli, as the victim of the slur, ought to be the one whose comments carry the greatest weight in the affair. It should not be the AFL, Richmond or Burns, but Houli. Speaking out late on Monday night, Houli described himself as being “sad to hear it”.

As Houli said: “[Racism] something that we shouldn’t accept in our society”.

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