MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A prominent Australian Football League club boss has criticised the league for employing stadium security staff that he said appeared to be “new arrivals” to the country and ill-equipped to police fan behaviour.
Jeff Kennett, a former Victoria state premier and president of the Melbourne-based Hawthorn Hawks, made the comments amid a fan-led backlash over the presence of “behavioural awareness officers” patrolling the terraces at AFL games.
“I’m not being racist when I say this, but when I saw some of the footage, the people who are making judgements while they wear these authoritative coats, are not people who appear to have a great knowledge of our game,” Kennett told local radio station 3AW on Monday.
“And yet they make judgements about what’s correct and not correct.”
Asked by 3AW host Neil Mitchell what he meant, Kennett said: “Well, they’re new arrivals to Australia, it appears.
“We don’t know that (for sure) and they could be born here,” Kennett added.
“All I’m saying, is the sporting arena is where people relax, where they support their tribe, and what is happening now is unacceptable.”
Stadium security at AFL games has been in the spotlight after several violent brawls in match-day crowds this season.
The ‘behavioural awareness officers’, who wear high-visibility vests with phone numbers to report anti-social behaviour, were a highly visible presence during the Hawthorn-Essendon match at Docklands Stadium on Friday.
Their regular patrols up and down the aisles of the terraces sparked outrage from fans on social media and an admission from the stadium’s manager that they had gone “too far”.
“We don’t want our fans to feel intimidated by security. We actually want them to feel safe and secure, so it’s something that we will be reviewing to make sure that we get that balance right,” the venue’s chief executive Michael Green told local radio on Sunday.
The AFL has been under fire over its security arrangements after a number of heavy-handed responses to fan barracking.
A supporter of Melbourne-based club Carlton Blues was ejected from Docklands stadium last week for being abusive to an umpire, while a Collingwood Magpies fan was warned by police for ‘barracking too loud’.
“I’m not at the ballet, I’m at the footy,” the fan told local media. “I pay $1,000 a year… Why should the AFL take my money and then take away my right to support my team?”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)