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Indigenous former players sue Australian Football League over racism

This photo shows the logo of Australian Football League. (Photo by AFP)

Seven indigenous former football players have launched a class action lawsuit against Australian Football League (AFL), accusing senior management of failing to protect them from racist insults during their playing days.

Michel Margalit, managing principal of the Margalit Injury Lawyers legal firm which is handling the claim against the AFL, said in a statement on Saturday that the "vile racial abuse" has resulted in "life-altering damage" to the players, adding that they would be seeking compensation for the alleged lack of duty of care.

"Our claim alleges that the impact of this racial vilification has had life-long consequences, and has caused significant pain and suffering and this remains with the players for life," Margalit said.

"The racial abuse suffered by players was extreme -- not just words, but repugnant physical acts such as spitting and violence," she added.

The lawyer said the AFL was aware of this racial abuse, but as the keeper of the code, it “failed to take decisive action to protect players.”

Phil Krakouer, a star player with North Melbourne in the 1980s, who is among the group of ex-footballers who have launched the class action, said they have been deeply affected by not only the comments that were made to them but also the lack of support from the AFL made it worse.

“The AFL had the power to stop it, and they have the power to stop it ever happening again. Sorry doesn’t cut it. They have to make sure this never occurs again, for everyone. You can’t improve present and the future without addressing the past,” he said.

"I was a 22-year-old kid that tried out for the big league. I was completely naive and full of dreams. I was hoping that great things were going to happen. It was a professional sport and the AFL allowed us to be abused and traumatized," Krakouer said.

"We signed up to play football, not to be racially abused," he added.

Krakouer said the players want their experience to be validated by the AFL and don’t want to feel like victims anymore. “This case means we are finally being heard.”

According to the legal firm, others are expected to join the suit, which covers Indigenous people who were AFL players or officials from 1975 to 2022.

The class action will assist both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as “all people of color who were subjected to racism within the AFL,” it said.

The latest suit comes before Australia holds an October 14 referendum on whether to give Indigenous Australians a constitutionally enshrined right to be consulted on matters that affect them.

Indigenous Australians who have been living in the country for thousands of years have been struggling for generations to get recognition.

The constitution of Australia, which came into effect in January 1901, does not recognize Indigenous Australians.

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