Former Wallaby and Indigenous rugby icon Gary Ella has fired back at 1991 World Cup-winning captain Nick Farr-Jones’ view that Australia doesn’t have a major problem in relation to “the discrimination of coloured people”.
Senior Wallabies figure Dane Haylett-Petty said on Wednesday that it was something the team would discuss, taking a knee during the national anthem in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but Farr-Jones says it would be “too risky” because viewers would switch off.
Farr-Jones, speaking on Ben Fordham’s 2GB program on Thursday morning, inflamed the situation with a remark about the presence of racism in Australia.
“I don’t think here in Australia that we have a major issue in relation to discrimination of coloured people,” Farr-Jones said.
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Ella, when contacted by the Sydney Morning Herald, was taken aback by Farr-Jones’ comments.
“Without saying they should drop a knee or shouldn’t – to me that’s up to individuals – but that’s crazy,” Ella said. “That’s just stupid talk.
“That obviously shows that Nick doesn’t have a full appreciation of the history of Aboriginal people in this country. If you’re talking about reconciliation we’re talking about sharing and acknowledging the history that we’ve come past and are working towards a better future. Those type of comments are totally ignoring the history.”
Another Indigenous Australian rugby figure, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: “He’s dreaming. That’s a stupid comment. How would he know? He wouldn’t know, he’s not Aboriginal. I’m not fussed on the one knee thing but to say we haven’t got an issue in Australia is ridiculous.”
The Wallabies will wear the First Nations jersey against New Zealand on October 31 in Sydney.
But Farr-Jones said the team risked alienating viewers if they dropped a knee during the national anthem.
“To take the risk of basically splitting the support the Wallabies are starting to earn through their gutsy performances in Wellington and Auckland – just don’t do it guys, it’s too risky,” Farr-Jones said. “You run the risk that a few [viewers] would just turn off. They don’t want to see politics in national sport. That’s a real risk.
“I think it could be divisive.”
“We went to South Africa in ’92 when it was opening up, when apartheid was just about behind it. Of course [Nelson] Mandela was elected the first black president in ’94.
“We had a minute silence for victims of township violence before we played our Test match in Cape Town but here in Australia I think if you surveyed your listeners, I think 99 per cent would agree that all lives matter. We don’t have that issue. Let’s not make it a political issue in a sporting event.”
The 63-test Wallaby, who led Australia to World Cup glory in 1991, said all stakeholders would have to be consulted if the Wallabies team decided to take a knee during the national anthem.
“At the end of the day it’s up to the captain, the coach [and] the team but I would also implore the guys to make sure that if they want to do it, they get the approval of the board,” Farr-Jones said. “They can’t just go and do this and risk the loss of all the support.
“Over the decades we cherish the fact we’ve had some amazing Indigenous people in our teams, some amazing Polynesians and Fijian players. I think of the Ellas and how blessed I was to play alongside Mark in my early Tests… we’ve never had an issue. We all come together under that one jersey brilliantly.”
Farr-Jones’ comments came after the launch of the Wallabies First Nations jersey in Sydney on Wednesday, where Haylett-Petty was asked by a reporter whether the Australian team had discussed taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which spread across world sport following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in police custody in the US.
“It wasn’t something the Wallabies squad discussed but I think it’s great,” Haylett-Petty said. “I think sport has an amazing opportunity to have a say and join conversations and a lot of sports have done that and it would be a great thing for us to do.”
Haylett-Petty was then asked whether it was something the Wallabies would consider doing on home soil, potentially in the upcoming Bledisloe Cup match against New Zealand next Saturday in Sydney when they are wearing the special jersey.
“I obviously can’t speak for everyone but I think it would be a great show of support,” Haylett-Petty said. “As a group, I think that’s probably a discussion to have as a group and we’d definitely consider it.”
The Wallabies were set to assemble in the Hunter Valley on Thursday afternoon, with RA saying no decision had been made on whether the team would drop a knee.