Football 2023: Racist and homophobic abuse targeting Indigenous football player in Sydney

Football in Australia has been rocked by fresh allegations of abuse after an Indigenous football player reported racial and homophobic slurs used by opposition supporters during a National Premier League fixture in Sydney’s west last Sunday.

News Corp reports that an APIA Leichhardt player lodged an on-field complaint to the referees after being targeted by Sydney United 58 FC fans — as well as sending a letter to Leichhardt’s board detailing the alleged abuse.

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“In the second half, I was playing right wing as in front of the far corner where the fans stand on the grass, the crowd started yelling as I went near the sideline with my back to them at the start.

“Anytime I went near the sideline they would be yelling,” he said.

The letter continued with a series of racist and homophobic taunts.

The letter written to APIA Leichhardt, obtained by News Corp, read: “I told the sideline ref at the 70 minute mark, (and) I also told Adrian (Arndt) the main referee along with our captain, that I was getting this abuse.”

The letter alleges the teammate Yanni Nicolaou was also targetted with racial abuse.

“I was truly shocked by the whole event. I am a proud Aboriginal and this is something that my family and I are extremely proud of,” the letter concludes.

APIA Leichhardt president Tony Raciti described the alleged abuse as “staggering and mind-boggling, beyond belief.

“APIA Leichhardt Tigers FC does not condone this type of behaviour and there is no place for racial or homophobic behaviour in sport or society.”

Former Socceroo Craig Foster said the “referee should have suspended the match immediately,” calling it “disgusting”.

Sydney Morning Herald sports reporter Vince Rugari said it should see Sydney United’s application to join the proposed National Second Division go “up in smoke”.

“That 40 point suspended sentence (should be) triggered, or there was no point even having it.

“Time to step up (Football Australia) – you gave them a chance.”

A Football NSW statement said that they had “opened an investigation into the alleged incident and (are) working with both clubs.

“Football NSW adopts a zero-tolerance policy to disrespectful or offensive behaviour at sanctioned events and is committed to promoting a safe and enjoyable environment for all football participants.”

Football Australia also responded to the allegations in a statement, saying the “national governing body takes all allegations of discriminatory behaviour seriously and encourages anyone who has witnessed or experienced such to come forward and report it to the relevant authorities.”

The National Premier Leagues sit below the A-League as the second tier of football in Australia, absorbing some clubs that previously played in the top-tier National Soccer League before its replacement in 2004 by the franchise-based A-League.

APIA Leichhardt competed in the NSL from 1979 to 1992, while Sydney United competed from 1984-2004.

Fans of Sydney United were previously hit with life bans alongside club sanctions for “deeply offensive” behaviour at last year’s Australia Cup final.

Football Australia investigated incidents in the stands with fans banned for racist behaviour which included Nazi salutes and supporters involved in a chant associated with the far-right Croatian Ustaše movement.

They also booed during the pre-match Welcome to Country.

The club were found by FA to be in breach of the sport’s National Code of Conduct and Ethics.

The club was also hit at the time with several suspended sanctions which included further fines, significant points deductions in the NPL NSW competition (in which the weekend’s fixture involving the alleged abuse was played) and a suspended participation ban from the Australia Cup in 2023, 2024 and 2025.

Those sanctions would be triggered if Sydney United did not comply with specific requirements over the next three years including ongoing volunteer work with First Nations and Jewish communities, compulsory anti-racism education, as well as cultural competency training for club figures.

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