Thirty years after Winmar’s stand, vilification of Indigenous players continues

The 2023 AFL season began with excitement but was tainted (again) by racism – and it was only round 2.


Nicky Winmar. Photo: Robert Connolly (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Three decades ago AFL star and St Kilda club legend Nicky Winmar made a powerful statement by lifted his shirt in front of an opposition crowd who’d repeatedly racially abused him, and shouting, “I’m black and I’m proud to be black.

But the issue of racism in footy continues today.

The past weekend (which was round 2 of the 2023 AFL premiership season) saw the Western Bulldogs’ young star forward Jamarra Ugle-Hagen subject to racist obscenities during and after his team’s loss to Winmar’s former club St Kilda on Saturday night at Marvel Stadium.

It was reported that Ugle-Hagen did not attend the Bulldogs’ recovery training session the following Monday, having been granted the day off by the club.

The Bulldogs released a statement the day after the game.

“Racism of any kind does not belong in our game, nor in our society. We cannot tolerate it,” the club affirmed.

“Comments like these are extremely upsetting and cause significant hurt and harm for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

The club said such statements were made “to intentionally harm, and we continue to be confronted by them as a community.”

“We’re saddened by the constant need to reinforce the negative impact this has on the individuals concerned, and all First Nations people.”

The Western Bulldogs were quick to get behind their beloved forward, stating they would continue to use their voice to “further educate our fans and the wider community.”

Similarly, the St Kilda Football Club released a statement strongly condemning vilification of any kind.

“To be repeatedly addressing these repugnant instances of racism is a blight on our game and society,” the Saints’ statement read.

“We will continue to stamp out and call out this unacceptable behaviour by having these important conversations, as well as make ongoing education available for the wider community.

“As a club, we are committed to building greater awareness of the harm caused through comments such as these.”

The club finalised the statement with a short, poignant pronouncement.

“We will not stand for this.”

Bulldogs captain Marcus Bontempelli shared the attitude displayed in both club statements.

“It’s a disappointing thing unfortunately for our game and in our community to be revisiting,” he said.

“You feel angry and disappointed all at the same time – we will support him and his family as best as we possibly can.”

St Kilda defender Callum Wilkie, who is set to captain the side during Jack Steele’s absence because of injury, pointed to the role of First Nations players in the sport.

“Indigenous players have done so much for our game and so much for our football club,” Wilkie stated.

“We’ve had so many greats throughout our history or who are with us now, and we feel for them when it happens.”

Wilkie said the Saints extended their full support to Ugle-Hagen, and all First Nations players.

“We hope it’s not going to continue to happen,” he said.

“Inevitably, it probably will, but it’s not good enough.”

St Kilda CEO Simon Lethlean echoed the sentiment shared by many across the AFL community, asserting that the fans who made the remarks “certainly won’t be welcome at our games” if they could be successfully identified.