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John Passant

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June 2010



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Rugby League: racist and sexist

Timana Tahu is a hero. The rugby league star walked out on his state, New South Wales. Why?

Because the assistant coach and former super star Andrew Johns called Greg Inglis, one of the Queensland players, a black cunt.

Timana is aboriginal and proud of his heritage. Inglis is a close friend.

Tahu decided to take a stand against racism, racism that is not only endemic to rugby league but to Australian society.

As I have argued on this site, Australia is founded on two forms of racism – racism against the original inhabitants and racism against non-whites coming to the country. It is this crimson thread of racism that runs through our body politic and major sections of society even today.

Tahu is leading a fightback. Here’s part of what he said yesterday.

Leaving Origin was a really big decision for me and I’d like to clarify that it was not just one racial comment directed at one individual that offended me.

The remarks were directed at various races and the situation I encountered was totally unacceptable.

I believe I am a role model for children and I did this to show my kids this type of behaviour is wrong.

This isn’t about me or Andrew Johns, it’s about arresting racism and standing up for my beliefs.

How could it be that in game where over 30 percent of players are of Pacific Islander descent and 11 percent are indigenous that racism could be so endemic?

First, it is not the players who have any power in the game.  They are the playthings of big media interests like Channel 9 and Fox Sports (part owned by News Limited). The concern of these companies is money, not equality or justice.

Secondly, Islanders and aborigines, especially, are denied access to any real positions of power in our white ruling class run society. They are at the bottom of the economic and political ladder. Indeed how many aboriginal or islander people run the game?

For many boys from indigenous or islander backgrounds rugby league is about the only way to escape a life of menial jobs, poor housing, poor education and poor health, all results imposed on them by the structures of capitalism.

Thirdly, such racist and sexist words are common place among large sections of the working class. They represent the degeneration of capitalist society. They are an expression of powerlessness and alienation.

By denigrating others we somehow think we empower ourselves.

Fourth, the very culture of rugby league (and I would guess all other male professional team sports) is to see women and the powerless as inferior to the all conquering man hero, and mostly a white male hero or the image of a white man at that. 

Tahu is leading the fightback. Other indigenous and islander players must join him to help stamp out this cancer on our society. Boycotting Origin would be a good first start.

But it goes further than that. Racism is endemic to capitalist society.

The Rudd Labor Government is spreading racism and reinforcing its acceptability with its demonisation of refugees and its intervention in the Northern Territory targeting aborigines. The fight against racism in Rugby League must be the fight against racism in society, and against Labor’s racist policies on aborigines and refugees.

Aboriginal and islander footballers, indeed all  footballers, could help the fight against racism in rugby league by joining the demonstrations for refugees around Australia this weekend. The fight against racism is not just confined to the football field. 

Channel 9 employs Johns as a sideline commentator (and not a very good one.) They are standing by their man. This is not surprising.

Last year Channel 9 sacked Andrew Johns’ brother, Matty Johns, after it became clear he and a number of other Cronulla players had had sex with a young woman in New Zealand. She claimed she did not consent. He claimed she did.

A few months later Channel 7 swooped and now Matty Johns heads a very very successful football show for them. The woman’s life is in ruins.

So obviously in the cut throat footy ratings duel between Channels 9 and 7, and in the positioning for future rights to televise games, Channel 9 don’t want to cut Andrew loose for fear he might end up with his brother on their competitor’s show. That’s real principle.

But there is something else deeply disturbing about all of this.  Andrew Johns’ referred  to Inglis not only by the colour of his skin but by reference to a woman’s vagina. According to Inga Miscio, ‘contained in that one [word] is a whole history of misogyny.’

Yet where is the outrage about Johns’ sexism, his use of a derogatory word drawn from female genitalia, to describe another human being? There is none. 

Would it have been OK for Johns just to call Inglis a cunt? Apparently, given the lack of reaction to the use of the word.

Rugby League has a Women in League Program, in part as a response to the outrage women felt about Matty Johns and the gang bang in New Zealand. Here’s what the NRL website says about it:

Rugby League’s Women in League program is about recognising and rewarding the important role that women play in the game.

Women and girls are an important part of the rugby league family.  From players, to coaches, match officials, volunteers, first aid officers, managers and much more, women and girls play an integral role to the code in this country.

But not important enough apparently to stop the sort of denigration of women Johns unleashed the other night, a denigration apparently so ingrained that it goes unremarked by any league official.

It’s not just up to Tahu and other indigenous and islander players to take a stand. It’s time for the women of league to also join in and walk away from a game totally mired in racism and sexism.

But even more importantly, those within Rugby League who want to fight sexism and racism must understand that these cancers pervade capitalist society.  Come join with us in the fight against racism and sexism in society generally.



Comment from Jane
Time June 14, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Very well put!

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Time June 15, 2010 at 1:35 am

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Comment from JCS
Time June 15, 2010 at 5:14 am

To be honest I reckon Timana Tahu should harden the f**k up. I consider this nothing more that locker room banter. Anyone who has played footy has been on the receiving end of chirping and slander. That it would be ok to call Inglis a C**t but not a black c**t is rediculous. What if another indigenous player referred to him as the same would it then be ok??

Comment from John
Time June 15, 2010 at 5:41 am

Except JCS, Timana says it is not a one off incident. It is ongoing. You say it’s just locker room banter. It actually isn’t. It reflects the deep racism of our society.

Comment from Frank
Time June 15, 2010 at 8:47 pm

You are little more than an illiterate, offensive opportunist in this whole story.

Comment from John
Time June 15, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Thanks Frank. How so?

Comment from jim
Time June 15, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Good work John and Temana.
Unfortunately this sort of racism learnt young, will take a lot of work to purge from sport .
I am not so sure about the comment being genuinely “Sexist “.

Comment from Jane
Time June 15, 2010 at 11:46 pm

The fact that this comment is not recognised as being sexist indicates just how sexist our community is… or at least, how racist is the person making the comment.

Comment from Jane
Time June 15, 2010 at 11:47 pm

and sexist

Comment from John
Time June 16, 2010 at 8:15 am

Thanks Jane. I agonised about repeating the words he used but decided to do so to brutally expose the sexist and racist nature of the comments Johns’ made. The lack of any outrage among the commentary on the issue about the deeply offensive and sexist nature of the comment was not surprising given that our society is deeply sexist. the fact that most people don’t even recognise the nature of comment as sexist as well as racist just goes to prove the point.

Comment from peter piper
Time June 16, 2010 at 9:06 am

for God’s sake harden up all you precious little princesses. stop taking it all so personally; what happens on the field stays on the field. Listening to you lot trying to validate each other about who has been the most offended, is very similar to what you hear when you put several paedophiles in the same room – they all validate each other and believe they are right and the worl is wrong.

Comment from Frank
Time June 16, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I don’t believe that what johns did is that bad

You guys need to harden up

Comment from jeffg
Time June 19, 2010 at 3:10 pm

in nth america, “cunt” is ascribed to women, by men and women. it’s taken some getting used to

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