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Magpie fan membership torn up after racist remarks

5 June 2012 - Article by Jennifer Witham for the AFL website 

A Collingwood fan's 20-year club membership has been terminated by the club after he admitted to racially vilifying Gold Coast player Joel Wilkinson.

The incident took place in the fourth quarter of Sunday's match at the MCG and was witnessed by Collingwood midfielder Dale Thomas.

The spectator was sitting two bays across from the cheer squad, and "was not someone security or police have had on-going issues with".

But, Collingwood CEO Gary Pert admitted there had been occasions where he had been "on the edge or border of in his behaviour".

Thomas complained to his club after the match about the comments, a move repeated by several Collingwood fans in the vicinity of the offender.

Pert offered an apology to Wilkinson, who asked the AFL to make the matter public "in a bid to educate spectators about what is unacceptable crowd behaviour at AFL matches".

He said Thomas had been "disgusted" by what was said.

"[Dale] made it clear to Joel that if he wanted to take this further, he would support him on that," Pert said.

"Once he advised the club, we instantly prepared the next day to try and find who was the supporter that racially vilified the opposition player.

"That was made easier because of the response of the supporters and members in the area, who were equally disgusted they were the ones who had initially reacted and told this supporter to stop what he was saying and to stop his behaviour.

"They then followed it up by advising security and police at the game to show their intolerance [of the fan's comments], and after the game, in numbers I haven't experienced before for any other incident, wrote emails, letters, telephone calls advising the club and saying they would like action taken."

Pert said it was a "non-negotiable" the supporter's membership was cancelled.

"Being a member of the club is something that's privilege, not a right, and that privilege can be taken away by the club if behaviour is deemed inappropriate," he said.

It is the second time Wilkinson has been at the heart of a racial vilification scandal.

In June last year, Western Bulldogs player Justin Sherman was suspended for four matches and fined $5000 for making racial comments to the 20-year-old.

Wilkinson, who is a multicultural ambassador for the Suns and AFL, said he was encouraged by the response to the latest incident.

"I was shocked when the incident took place and it was extremely upsetting at the time," Wilkinson said.

"But the actions of Dale Thomas and a number of Collingwood supporters in the area certainly demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of society finds this behaviour to be unacceptable.

"I hope standing up and raising awareness of this issue goes a long way to ensuring that no other player or spectator will be vilified at sporting events or in society in the future."

A resolution for this case was reached less than two days after the incident following a "confidential conciliation meeting" at AFL House involving Pert, the AFL's vilification consultant Frank Bassini, AFL cultural strategy and education manager Sue Clark and Wilkinson, who attended via telephone.

The offender voluntarily took part in the process and apologised for his actions.

As part of an agreed settlement, it was determined that the spectator not be named, and he apologise to Wilkinson, both clubs and the members and supporters who were offended by the incident.

He must also undertake a racial vilification program before any reapplication for club membership is considered.

While his Collingwood 'Legends' membership - which entitles access to a Grand Final ticket should the Magpies make it - has been cancelled indefinitely, he can still attend the football in general admission.

AFL football operations manager Adrian Anderson said the League's zero tolerance to racial vilification would be maintained.

"The decisive response from Dale Thomas and the Collingwood supporters to this disappointing but isolated incident is incredibly impressive and demonstrates how far we have come as a sporting code," Anderson said. 

"All AFL players deserve and expect the right to compete as hard as they possibly can on the field, free from any form of abuse or harassment.

"This incident and its swift resolution sends a powerful message that racial vilification at the football in any form is offensive and totally unacceptable - not just to the target of the vilification but also to the overwhelming majority of players and supporters.

Anderson said the AFL had spoken to the MCG's security and the police about why the patron wasn't evicted at the time of the offence.

Although spectators are not technically subject to AFL player rule 30 covering the racial and religious vilification code, the complaint was dealt with in line with the same process and consistent with the principles that underpin that code.