Adam Goodes, one of Australia’s highest-profile indigenous sportsmen and a former Australian of the Year, is set to play on, saying he has been humbled by the support received after persistent booing of him was slammed as racist, his coach says.
The Australian Football League (AFL) star player ruled himself out of an AFL fixture last weekend, sparking fears he may quit the game after being the target of a barrage of heckling by opposing fans throughout this season.
The Aboriginal player had been given indefinite leave following the badgering.
“I spoke to Adam late yesterday afternoon and he’s intending to come and train tomorrow and be available for selection this week,” Sydney Swans coach John Longmire told reporters on Monday.
“He was incredibly humbled by the support he received over the weekend.
“I don’t think he had intentions to watch the [Swans] game, but he ended up watching the final three-quarters and couldn’t believe the amount of support that he had,” he added.
“We as a football club are just incredibly grateful for the amount of support from the football community.”
A ‘blight on Australia’
Australia’s race discrimination commissioner said last week the abuse of Goodes, 35, had gone beyond sport and become a blight on the country, and a campaign on social media, #IStandWithAdam, quickly gained momentum.
Tens of thousands of Australians posted messages of support and photographs of themselves with Goodes’ playing number 37 on Twitter, in a campaign backed by Australian celebrities Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman and Hugo Weaving.
On Saturday a season-high crowd of almost 40,000 people at the Sydney Cricket Ground raised their voices in unison to cheer the absent Goodes in an emotionally charged game between the Swans and the Adelaide Crows.
The stadium was filled with Aboriginal flags and fans wearing the number 37, while others raised homemade signs including “Love Goodes, racism bad” and “Adam Goodes! We applaud & respect you.”
Swans players ran into the stadium through a massive banner emblazoned with the word “RESPECT” as the team’s chairman Andrew Pridham slammed Goodes’ critics in a pre-match speech.
Grace after being called ‘an ape’
Many believe the jeering was racially motivated and stemmed from Goodes’ reaction after being called “an ape” by a 13-year-old girl at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2013. After the incident, Goodes told a press conference that the abuse wasn’t the girl’s fault and asked the media to support her, but said the use of the word hurt him.
The abuse intensified after he performed an Aboriginal war dance during a match in May.
Longmire said he expected Goodes, widely seen as one of the game’s best-ever players, to be available for Saturday’s away clash with Geelong Cats, although his place in the side will not be confirmed until later in the week.
“If he puts himself up and he’s ready to play and he thinks he’s mentally and physically right to play, I’d imagine that he will be playing,” Longmire said, adding that he hoped the Cats fans gave him a respectful reception.
“An atmosphere that you appreciate one of the greats that’s played the game and you are watching him run around,” Longmire said.
“It’s all Adam would expect as well.”