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‘We are encouraging players to take a stand’: NRL chief vows to eradicate racist fans

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Indigenous NRL player Latrell Mitchell’s recent fight against racial abuse online has been a turning point for rugby league.

After years of relentless abuse, he took action last month, reporting two men to police for racist social media messages he received.

Now as the NRL gets ready for Indigenous Round, the league has acknowledged his actions and its intent to maintain the focus on getting rid of abuse from the game. 

“We saw incredible bravery by Latrell Mitchell,” NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said at the launch.

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“He stood up and we were able to cooperate with police and as a result of that we have criminal charges and fans that are removed from the game — we will continue to do that.” 

The Rabbitohs full-back wants Indigenous players to be better protected and supported in calling out such behaviour.

Latrell Mitchell wants Indigenous players to receive better protection from abusive behaviour.(

AAP: Dan Himbrechts

)

Abdo said the league was working to make that happen.

“We are not going to stop and we are not going to slow down. In fact, we are accelerating,” he said.

“We have more sophistication than we have ever had before and we have a great relationship with the correct state authorities. That means we can take much stronger action than we have been able to in the past.”

Abdo wants more Indigenous players to speak out as Mitchell did. He has vowed to protect them and to punish offenders.

“I have said publicly and I also communicate privately to the players that our resources are there to protect them, so we are encouraging players to take a stand and provide us with as much information as possible so that we can act on it,” he said.

NRL acknowledges racism a problem

Abdo is not shying away from the perennial problem of racism and other vilification in the game.

He applauded all players who had stood up against it.

“Other players, they might not have gone public, but have worked with us and provided us with information so that we can take action.

“We are not going to take a back seat [and will instead act] so that people acting inappropriately will be eliminated from our game.

“You’re not welcome. We are taking action. We are able to remove fans or any stakeholders from the game if they are not adhering to the values we stand for.”

How the NRL is listening to Indigenous concerns

The game has made it a priority to listen more to the Indigenous voices that are in it.

Abdo says providing a safe space to Indigenous players where they know their voice will be heard is crucial in bringing about change.

“We are very fortunate we have an Indigenous Players Advisory Council with a number of leading players: Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Ryan James and other players,” he said.

“That’s a great opportunity for us to hear directly from the players and to communicate with the players as well.”

Cobble Cobble woman and Australian Rugby League commissioner Megan Davis is proud change is occurring but feels there is still a way to go.

“Indigenous people didn’t feel as confident to stand up to racism and I am proud he (Mitchell) feels he has the support to stand up when he is being attacked by trolls on social media and subject to racial vilification because it is unlawful behaviour,” Professor Davis said.

A group of NRL players kneel around Latrell Mitchell with a flame in the background
Australian Rugby League commissioner Megan Davis says Indigenous players have shaped the game’s history.(

AAP: Daniel Pockett

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She agreed Indigenous players needed to be protected, empowered and celebrated.

“On the field, our Indigenous players are superstars,” she said.

“Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Jack Wighton, David Fifita, Blake Ferguson — imagine a game without those names — without the great Jonathon Thurston or Greg Inglis or Artie Beetson.

“Indigenous players have shaped our history and are building our future.”

She said finding a brighter future meant listening to players and the people in their communities.

“The Indigenous Players Advisory Council is another voice to make sure that we are always listening to the Indigenous community on rugby league,” she said.

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This week is the NRL’s annual Indigenous Round, celebrating First Nations people and history, their contribution and culture.

All 16 clubs will wear Indigenous-inspired jerseys.

“I am really fortunate and grateful that I can be a part of Indigenous Round and I really love wearing this jersey, it’s really humbling,” Indigenous Eels player Blake Ferguson said.

“Every time I chuck on a jersey for the Indigenous Round or All Stars, I hold it close to my heart and I know that I am going out there to play for my family, my heritage and all the friends and family that haven’t had the opportunity in the NRL.”

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