A former AFL footballer launching a human rights case against league bosses over alleged racism claims it is “systematic” within the game.
Ex-Gold Coast defender Joel Wilkinson, who played 26 games for the Suns between 2011 and 2013, will take his case to the Human Rights Commission after talks with the AFL broke down. He is also threatening a civil law suit.
“I’m here because I don’t want to be silenced anymore and what has happened has been a continuous breach of human rights,” he told reporters on Thursday, reading from a statement.
“I have suffered extreme racism during my time in the AFL and post my career from the AFL until this very day.
“This intensified when I tried to stop it from occurring and repeatedly occurring to others. I am here to hold the AFL accountable and stand against injustice.
“My career was taken from me, my rights violated due to racism, religious vilification and racially-motivated sexual harassment that I experienced for many years. This is not acceptable in the workplace.”
The AFL said they were “sorry” Wilkinson had “suffered experiences of racial abuse” and would work with him to try to resolve the matter.
Wilkinson was racially vilified in his first match of his AFL career by Justin Sherman of the Western Bulldogs, who was given a four-match suspension. He was also racially abused by a supporter during a match between Collingwood and the Gold Coast in his short career.
On Thursday, the former player claimed to be revealing “the dark works on the inside of the AFL”.
“Let’s make this clear – this isn’t a past issue. This is very present, happening now and many players in the system have experiences of racism similar to mine,” he told reporters.
“This is extremely systematic across the AFL. The AFL enables and acts as the head of this system. The corporate community and public must ask questions.
“For many years I continually approached the AFL. I’ve had to keep pushing the issue and it has now led me to here, having to pursue legal action.”
Wilkinson claimed the AFL had tried to “continually deny my experiences” and that “the world is watching” the outcome of his legal action.
“If the AFL, as a national game, cannot be held accountable, then who will be held accountable in this country,” he said.
“What message will that send to the value of black people in these spaces of employment and in great society?
“From this loss of career and suffering, I seek justice.”
Wilkinson did not answer any questions for “legal reasons”.
AFL, Suns respond
In a brief statement issued to The New Daily, Gold Coast said: “We are treating the matter seriously and will participate in any process as appropriate and required.”
The AFL added: “We are sorry that Mr Wilkinson suffered experiences of racial abuse during his time as an AFL footballer.
“He has previously shared his experience of racial abuse, helping educate the community via a series of social awareness videos produced with the AFL.
“We respect a person’s right to pursue claims through the legal system. We will continue to work with Joel to seek to resolve this matter.”