Abuse at AFL matches has always been prevalent, but it is beginning to cross lines that aren’t acceptable in any code and it needs to be stamped out. AFL supporters are well within their rights to cheer and boo players of teams when they attend live games of football. Many supporters might find the vitriol directed by members of clubs towards their own team absolutely shocking, while others might sympathise with those supporters who have suffered through abysmal play and administration.
What all AFL fans should agree on is that there are certain kinds of abuse that are not acceptable. Racial discrimination is one; there has been a disturbing resurgence of reported abuse towards players who are not white and the other is language which is derogatory in terms of sexual orientation.
This is distressing and offensive to other supporters and players and while racial abuse is bigoted and idiotic, it is even more so when in a sport that is more culturally diverse than it has ever been, there is not a single team without a player who is not Caucasian.
The AFL and staff at the various grounds around the country are working hard to stamp out this kind of discrimination and have made admirable progress, with both clubs and the league itself saying that language which racially discriminates is not acceptable.
While there is still a long way to go, the disturbingly increasing trend is towards homophobic abuse. Words such as fa–ot and poof are flung out with ease at football games, with one of the most abhorrent examples occurring during the Port Adelaide vs. Richmond game on the weekend.
There is an unspoken convention amongst football fans, no matter the team you support, when a player gets injured on the field, you do not hurl abuse. You stand, you applaud. You aren’t applauding their team, you are applauding the individual’s courage and the fact that he puts his body on the line to make the sport we all love possible.
Port Adelaide fans have no particular bile towards Richmond, but as a former Adelaide Crow, Knights clearly has no love from the Power supporter base. While Chris Knights was laying on the ground writhing in pain and clutching his knee, a Port Adelaide supporter screamed out “Get up you f-ing poof”, elsewhere in the crowd, Knights was called “a f-ing pussy and a fa–ot.”
Port Adelaide rightly took the AFL to task when its fans were described as feral, but the behaviour of people who scream abuse at injured players, especially homophobic insults can be described as nothing other than feral. The similar treatment of Kade Simpson last year when he was knocked out by Sharrod Wellingham was highlighted by Western Bulldogs player Rob Murphy when he heard the comments “you’re weak as piss” shouted in the crowd.
Support your team, cheer hard, boo when you feel the urge, but you should never, ever feel that is acceptable to insult someone based on their race, or to use terms that describe sexual orientation as derogatory. Language has great power to harm and using derogatory terms such as poof and fa–ot implies that people who are not heterosexual are somehow lesser than people who are. Demanding that people modify their language isn’t political correctness gone mad, but it is about educating and changing people’s perceptions so that people who are homosexual do not feel marginalised and lesser as human beings.
Port Adelaide have interviewed the complainant and are making proactive efforts to investigate the abuse. They must make it clear to members that the use of derogatory language of a homophobic nature is not acceptable off the field anymore than it is on. As a club Port have done a remarkable job of reinventing its brand on the field, and the administration staff are committed to making certain that AFL matches are an environment that are safe and suitable for all supporters to attend and cheer their team.