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PROTRACK » GENERAL » AA cannot ignore racial discrimination

AA cannot ignore racial discrimination

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1 AA cannot ignore racial discrimination on Sat Jul 28, 2012 12:30 pm



Athletics Australia can't ignore discrimination claims

The Drum By Ben Knight
Updated July 27, 2012

Athletics Australia may not know it, but non-white athletes back in Australia are watching their response to claims of racism in the camp very, very closely. And they don't like what they see.

One coach I spoke to back in Australia - who has a number of non-white athletes in his charge - says his athletes are deeply uncomfortable with the lack of a firm response from Athletics Australia.

"These blokes are talking about this right now," the coach said. "They're wondering if they want to stay in the sport."

These are athletes who already believe they have been discriminated against by officials. They were already wary of doing anything about it. This only makes them more inclined to shut up, saps their morale, as well as their desire to continue on the sport.

You can't really blame them. In essence, Athletics Australia is saying, 'If it happened, we don't want to know about it. And hey - it was four years ago. Let's move on'.

Move on. Oh, how I detest that phrase. When the dog comes in and lays a steaming pile on the living room rug, everyone can choose to 'move on'. But the pile is still there, stinking away. And remains there until someone decides to deal with it.

John Steffensen has a reputation for bluster and trash talk. But his allegation that he was racially abused by a team official at the Beijing Games was given credibility when Steve Hooker - his team captain, and roommate in Beijing - confirmed that Steffensen had been "treated unfairly" by a team official at the Beijing games.

You could also interpret Hooker's carefully-phrased comments as backing Steffensen's claim that he was, indeed, racially abused by that official.

That's enough to make it a problem. And Athletics Australia is refusing to deal with it.

It shouldn't be left to the head coach, Eric Hollingsworth, to speak for the organisation. As he points out, he wasn't there in Beijing.

But nor did he seem overly concerned.  We are talking about something that is four years old," he said. "I was not the head coach then so how would I be able to make comment on it when I wasn't in that team? It would be inappropriate of me to speculate in any shape or form."

Why would it be inappropriate? Four years is not that long ago. And if the problem was never dealt with, who's to say it's been solved?  As head coach, wouldn't you want to know?

This view that the past is in the past is not good enough. Nor is the response of Athletics Australia's CEO, Dallas O'Brien.

"I know there have been some general comments made, but there has been no proof or any specific situations," he told Fox Sports News last week.

"I've been in this position for two years now and certainly nothing has happened in that time."

The inference is that if Steffensen had a problem in Beijing, he should have complained at the time.

That's a pretty dated approach. As we all well know, sometimes those who are the victims of abuse - of any kind - feel powerless to complain. Or are pressured not to.

Quite rightly, the focus in London right now should be on the athletes and the games. That's what we all want - yes, media included.

But as long as Athletics Australia chooses to ignore it, others will not. Including some potential future champions.

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