Aussie Rules faces discrimination, harassment suit
Former Aussie Rules player Joel Wilkinson Wednesday announced plans to sue the sport’s governing body over claims he suffered years of racial abuse and sexual harassment during his career.
The Sydney-born Wilkinson, who is of Nigerian descent and played for the Gold Coast Suns, alleges the Australian Football League failed in its duty of care and allowed abuse, sexual taunting in the locker room, bullying and mistreatment, despite requests for help.
“In Australia playing AFL is a full-time job for many young people and like any job there are laws to protect your rights in the workplace,” said Shine Lawyers employment law expert Will Barsby, who is advising Wilkinson.
“The AFL isn’t exempt from these laws just because it is a national pastime. Sport is a business, players are employees.”
The AFL and the Suns had no immediate comment. Aussie Rules, Australia’s biggest spectator sport, is similar to Gaelic football but played with an oval ball.
Wilkinson, 26, made his AFL debut with the Suns in 2011, but was delisted in 2013. He tried out with the Cardinals in the American NFL in 2015 and last year attended a New York Giants camp in another bid to make the grade.
He alleges he was subject to discrimination, vilification and harassment on both racial and religious grounds by AFL staff, his club, club officials and team-mates, as well as opposition players and spectators.
Wilkinson also claims he faced racially motivated sexual harassment in the changing rooms by other players on numerous occasions.
His lawsuit charges that he was not offered future employment with the AFL, the Gold Coast Suns and other clubs because he spoke up about racism and associated with other players subjected to discrimination.
He is seeking compensation for loss of past and future wages and for pain, suffering and humiliation.
The AFL has been blighted by racism in the past and has admitted more must be done to eliminate the problem.
Last year, a fan accused of racially abusing indigenous player Eddie Betts was banned. The same player had a banana thrown at him the year before.
Adam Goodes, one of Australia’s most high-profile indigenous sportsmen, retired from Aussie Rules in 2015 after he was subject to repeated booing.
Many believed it was racially motivated and stemmed from him taking exception to being called an “ape” by a spectator at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2013.
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