Tahu’s brave stand a blow to racism

June 25, 2010
Socialist Alliance candidate for Parramatta, Duncan Roden.

Duncan Roden is a member of Resistance socialist youth organisation. He was born in Fiji and is a leading member of the Parramatta Climate Action Network. He has been preselected by the Socialist Alliance to run in the federal seat of Parramatta in the coming election.

Below, Roden responds to rugby player Timana Tahu’s stand against racism.

* * *

When star centre Timana Tahu quit the NSW State of Origin team on June 11, in protest against racist comments by rugby league “icon” Andrew Johns, he dealt racism in Australian sport a hammer blow.

Tahu had had enough. When Johns described Queensland centre Greg Inglis, an Aboriginal man from Kempsey, as a “black cunt” in his training instructions to the team, Tahu walked out.

NSW team management reacted by attempting to get Tahu to accept a private apology from Johns, as a way to resolve Tahu’s “hurt feelings”. After Tahu left, his departure was blamed on an injury until the truth was exposed the next day.

Tahu released a video statement on June 14, saying the issue went beyond this single incident.

“Leaving Origin was a really big decision for me and I’d like to clarify that it was not just one racial comment directed at one individual that offended me”, he said.

“The remarks were directed at various races and the situation I encountered was totally unacceptable.

“I believe I am a role model for children and I did this to show my kids this type of behaviour is wrong. This isn’t about me or Andrew Johns, it’s about arresting racism and standing up for my beliefs.

“I want to move on now and I know something positive will come from this.”

It certainly will. My family background is Fijian, and Tahu’s stand will help smash the widespread attitude that the indigenous peoples of Australia and the Pacific are supposed to just put up with “banter” about being “cannibals”, “golliwogs” and all the rest of the filth.

In the words of NRL Indigenous Council chairperson Smiley Johnstone: “At one point or another we have all witnessed some form of racism without standing up against it and taking the courageous stance that we have seen from Timana Tahu.”

Johns — either a dope or pretending to be one — couldn’t believe it: “We were mucking around, enjoying each other's company and there was just some banter among the boys. There were no problems at all. We trained the next day and nothing was said.”

To help Johns, and all the other “footy legends” like the AFL’s Robert DiPierdomenico and Sam Newman, also get the point, Channel Nine must sack its prominent league commentator, no matter if he is arguably the best player in history. If Channel Nine takes Johns back, it will send the wrong message — that racism matters little compared to fame, power or wealth.

Racism shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere, especially in such high-profile public scenes as the NRL, because many people, especially the young, see football players as role models.

When Queensland went on to flatten NSW 34-6 at the State of Origin 2 on June 16, its Aboriginal and Islander players like Johnathan Thurston, Israel Folau and Greg Inglis played blinders, apparently spurred on by Johns’ racist remarks.

Now is the time for institutions like Channel Nine to show they too understand, and catch up with the majority of the community that has welcomed Tahu’s courageous and important stand.

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