MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Rules players will tear through a banner of hateful tweets before a top flight match on Friday as part of a campaign against online bullying.
The indigenous game has been rocked by a string of social media controversies in recent weeks, with Aboriginal players suffering racist taunts and a prominent female footballer complaining of “sexual abuse” online.
To raise awareness of the problem, the Melbourne Demons will hoist a banner emblazoned with negative tweets about players and teams at the Melbourne Cricket Ground before their Australian Football League match against Essendon Bombers.
Players running through huge banners made by ‘cheer squads’ from crepe paper and sticky tape has been an Australian Rules tradition for over 70 years, although most showcase motivational messages or key milestones for players.
The Demons players running through the banner on Friday would “highlight how online harassment is a major issue not just for AFL players but for the one in five young Australians who are victims of cyber-bullying”, the team said.
The Demons teamed up with “Reach”, a youth-focused charity set up by the late former Melbourne player and president Jim Stynes, on the initiative.
In a promotional video on the Demons’ website (melbournefc.com.au), Melbourne’s Aboriginal defender Neville Jetta holds up a placard with a tweet describing him as a “scum bag”.
Jetta said he had been deeply affected by racist online abuse, particularly early in his career.
“In my early days I probably wasn’t strong enough to call it out and they were the ones that I just deleted,” the 29-year-old told an AFL chat show on local broadcaster Fox Sports.
“It’s not just racism, it’s actually bullying, bullying people, and AFL players have that stance where we’re able to speak out to the community and people actually listen to us.”
Last week, Melbourne-based AFL club Richmond Tigers handed a two-year ban to a supporter who made racially abusive comments about West Coast Eagles forward Liam Ryan.
Ryan, a 22-year-old Aboriginal, was called a “monkey” by multiple social media users on a local broadcaster’s Instagram account.
The sanction came days after AFL Women’s player Tayla Harris complained of “sexual abuse” after a photograph of her kicking a goal triggered a raft of offensive comments on a broadcaster’s social media account.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by ….)