MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The chief executive of Australian Football League champions West Coast Eagles has demanded “hateful, keyboard cowards” be held to account after one of the team’s Aboriginal players suffered racist abuse on social media.
West Coast forward Liam Ryan was called a “monkey” by multiple social media users on Channel 7’s AFL Instagram account after the broadcaster asked fans if the 22-year-old should be suspended for a clash with another player during the season-opening loss to the Brisbane Lions over the weekend.
Reports of the abuse triggered a chorus of condemnation from the Australian Rules football community, with West Coast boss Trevor Nisbett leading the charge.
“The continued use of the term ‘monkey’ is disgusting and these keyboard cowards must be held to account,” Nisbett said in a statement issued by the reigning champions on Monday.
“To have this occurring so consistently, albeit by a minority of people, is distressing and completely unacceptable.
“Our society expects better, our players expect better and our club expects better. This must stop and we must make a stand.
“No one should be subjected to this hateful and vitriolic garbage.”
Western Australia state premier Mark McGowan also weighed in, describing the abuse as “disgusting”.
“People should have learnt you cannot do this, and you shouldn’t do it,” he said.
The controversy comes only days after Carlton AFL women’s player Tayla Harris complained of “sexual abuse” after Channel 7 posted a photograph of her kicking a goal on social media.
AFL Players Association’ chief Paul Marsh called for social media users’ anonymity to be removed.
“More hatred directed at one of our players. This ongoing issue needs to be addressed at the source,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Change is needed so that these gutless people can’t hide behind anonymity.”
The AFL has been working to stamp out racism on the field and celebrates the contribution of Aboriginal players to the league with an ‘Indigenous Round’ of matches each season.
But the administration has proved powerless to rein in online abuse, with a number of players hitting out at racism on social media.
Adelaide Crows forward Eddie Betts, a leading Indigenous player, was last month called a “monkey” by a social media user after the club posted a picture of him arriving to play in a pre-season competition.
In response, Betts posted the question, “When will it stop?” on Instagram along with a screenshot of the abuse.
Betts has also suffered multiple instances of racism from football crowds, including having a banana thrown at him from the terraces during a match.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)