Racist behaviour has no place in Australia and certainly not on the playing field, according to senior Slater & Gordon lawyer, Ike Nwokolo.
The law firm is representing players subjected to racial abuse and violence after a local soccer match in Tullamarine last month erupted into a brawl involving members of the Sunshine Heights Western Tigers who are predominantly South Sudanese.
Slater & Gordon have taken the case on a pro bono basis to send a clear message that there is no room for racism in football (Soccer) or any other sporting code. As part of its pro bono work Slater & Gordon are representing the players before the Appeals Board.
Representing the players involved, Mr Nwokolo said that there needs to be zero tolerance for racist behaviour and that players, spectators, club officials and the football administration need to take a very strong stand.
“Everyone in the community wants to be able to play a game of sport without witnessing players being subjected to racial taunts or violence,” Mr Nwokolo said.
“Most of the players are refugees whose only form of recreation in the refugee camps was to play football. This is the only game they know and this is their only source of physical recreation.
“What lessons are we teaching children when they hear their parents yelling racist abuse at players?
“What does it say about our community if nothing is done about it?
Mr Nwokolo urged that action needed to be taken immediately to ensure racism is stamped out in all its forms.
“If decisive action is not taken by those in positions of authority then we will see the game of football irreversibly damaged. Lessons need to be learnt from the experience of other codes and adequate steps need to be implemented.
“It needs to be tackled from the top to the grass roots level, from the head of the Football Federation to the spectator at the local football game. Without a concerted effort on the part of everyone who loves football the game will suffer and lose fans and supporters.
In response to Football Federation Victoria’s “zero tolerance” statement today in relation to the reporting of bad behaviour, Mr Nwokolo said that he believed officials have known about this behaviour for some time.