Booing Adam Goodes isn’t racist

Charlie Pearson

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Topics Politics

Australian Football League star Adam Goodes has been the centre of race row Down Under, after his teammate Lewis Jetta responded to the opposition crowd booing Goodes by pretending to throw a spear, in the style of an Indigenous war dance, into their section of the Domain Stadium in Perth.

The incident, on 26 July, brought the issue of booing Goodes, who is an Indigenous Australian, to the attention of the public. Fans have been making their displeasure with Goodes known throughout the football season; the booing that led to Jetta’s pretend spear throw wasn’t a one-off. But what was first interpreted as an expression of fans’ mere dislike for the prominent and outspoken footballer, has now been re-cast as racism.

So it should be noted that it was only the reaction of Jetta that brought the Goodes issue to national media attention. Had he not done his war dance, the booing would have continued and column inches would have had to be filled with something else in recent days. Nonetheless, the Goodes issue has provided leverage for the great and good of Australia to make statements about how racist or not-racist they think Australian citizens are.

Immediately to label anyone who boos an Aboriginal footballer as racist is more than a little tenuous. Commentators’ ignorance of the context of the football stadium is startling; and the calls for Goodes to be wrapped in cotton wool and treated exceptionally seem to run counter to his own promotion of Australia as a nation in which ‘all Australians see each other as equals’.

A greater oversight, though, is the lack of acknowledgement of the fact that in a football ground normal standards of behaviour do not apply. Players will be booed, insults thrown and tempers frayed. In the rush to brand the booing of Goodes a manifestation of Australia’s alleged racism problem, the fact that Goodes is both an exceptional player and an outspoken public figure, and therefore an obvious target for the ire of opposition fans, has been completely lost.

Goodes should know that making public your views about anything remotely political means you will get some sort of response. The response is not always clever, and it’s not always pretty, particularly in the context of a football game, but that’s the nature of the public sphere. The booing will not stop for Goodes, and he must realise that you don’t always get polite applause when you live your life in the news – just as we must realise that, in the vast majority of cases, the boos that ring out when he’s on the pitch are not driven by racism.

Charlie Pearson is a writer based in London.

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Topics Politics

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