Johnstone challenges Australians to face up to racism

The Chairman of the Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council, Smiley Johnstone, has challenged all Australians to face up to the issue of racism and accept it is something we must all address.

Mr Johnstone says that events in the NSW Origin team and in the AFL have highlighted the insidious nature of racism and the refusal of many to address it properly.

“At one point or another we have all witnessed some form of racism without standing up against it and taking the courageous stance we have seen from Timana Tahu this week,” Mr Johnstone said.

“People were right to criticise Andrew Johns but wrong to trivialise the issue as somehow being a battle between football codes.

‘This issue is not limited to Rugby League only or any one area of society and, in fact, we see the AFL now trying to confront the same issue.

“We take for granted that Indigenous athletes are part of the everyday fabric of sport in Australia and include some of the best competitors in the country.

“For many Indigenous Australians, sport has been the pathway from struggling communities to national fame and each week, sport shows us that Indigenous Australians are role models, not only for their communities, but for everyone in society.

“Meaningful commitments such as the National Rugby League’s Reconciliation Action Plan, the Rugby League All Stars game and the inspiration these bring to Indigenous communities need to be highlighted as the way forward rather than dismissed because of the comments of one individual.

“The truth is that all Australians – Indigenous, non-Indigenous, Polynesian, new and old – have to face up to the reality that we must all be part of the solution.

“We must all ask ourselves how long it will take before it is no longer a surprise that an Indigenous Australian has been elected to parliament or has been appointed CEO of a company, as such events should not be seen as being exceptions to our social norm.

“We must also ask ourselves how long it will take before we as a society cannot ignore the fact that far too many Indigenous Australians live in unacceptable conditions.

“In the meantime, sports like Rugby League offer opportunities and remind us that no matter how much good work is done we must always accept that fighting racism and promoting cultural awareness and understanding is something we must actively and continually pursue.

“The ARL Indigenous Council hopes the awareness raised in sport in recent days will flow on in a way which makes Australians understand that you cannot just sit back as a spectator and think racism and tackling racism is not your issue.”