An emotional Eddie McGuire has stepped down as president of the Collingwood football club following controversy over his response to a report into systematic racism at the club.
Fighting back tears at a hastily called Tuesday afternoon media conference, McGuire apologised for his comments at Collingwood’s annual meeting last week, which sparked a campaign calling for his resignation.
Earlier on Tuesday, the AFL club was sent an open letter signed by politicians and Indigenous leaders that demanded McGuire quit his position immediately.
Later, McGuire said that, since becoming president in 1998, he had sought to create a club that would “provide opportunities for all people”.
He defiantly recounted his achievements in rebuilding Collingwood’s facilities, developing women’s football, services for the homeless, domestic violence mitigation, indigenous programs and gay pride events.
“This is why I say we are not a racist club. Far from it,” he said.
“It is why I am so proud of our club and the people every day of every week we benefit from and are inspired by the very purpose of being of Collingwood, that is to be a beacon of hope for all people, particularly those at their lowest ebb, who have been socially isolated and left behind. It has been since 1892.”
“I remind people that our recent review, inspired by Black Lives Matter, but part of a six-year journey of a reconciliation action plan, was to look to what we need to do in the next 10 years, not the last.
The report says, and I quote, that the Collingwood football club commissioned an independent review of its process of dealing with racism that reflects the realisation within the club that something fundamental needs to change.
“It needs to be noted, and underlined, that in undertaking this review the club was unflinching in holding up a mirror to itself. It was a brave first step that few would have the courage to take and shows the seriousness with which the club takes this issue.”
McGuire, who is due to exit the AFL club’s board at the end of 2021, had declared the release of the Do Better report, which came after it was leaked to the media, as a “proud and historic day” for Collingwood during a botched press conference.
The next day, at the Magpies’ annual meeting, he apologised for how he had described the findings of the club-commissioned independent review.
On Tuesday he said: “People have latched onto my opening line last week and as a result I have become a lightning rod for vitriol, but worse, have placed the club in a position where it is hard to move forward with the limitation of our plans with clear air”.
Backing down from his initial statements had done nothing to calm talk over McGuire’s future at Collingwood, after more than 22 years in charge.
Tuesday’s open letter was signed by more than 70 people, including federal politicians Lidia Thorpe (Greens), Peter Khalil and Anne Aly (both Labor).
“As a major public institution, the club’s response to this report sets a dangerous example of how victims of racism should be treated in all facets of public life,” it read.
“Since both Collingwood and the AFL have demonstrated that they are not capable of responding to this report and its findings in an appropriate way, we as a community have no choice but to act. We say enough.
“We believe that there are administrators, staff, fans and members of the Collingwood Football Club who truly wish to see it transcend its history.
“We believe Eddie McGuire has proven himself incapable of leading the Collingwood Football Club through any meaningful transformation. We call on him to step down immediately.”
Summing up his time at the club on Tuesday, McGuire broke down, saying it had been a central part of his life.
“I love Australian rules football, I love that it is the most eager literary and of games,” he said.
“No matter the size, the shape, or any other subset of life, he or she with a football is the most important person in the world when they have got it in their hands. I love my memories of Victoria Park, the first time, for
the first time in my life I felt like I was part of a community …
“I love my memories of Victoria Park … That feeling must stay
and grow for a new wave of immigrants, First Nation’s people and all Australians who love the ethos of our game.”