More than half of a women’s football team in regional Western Australia has quit over what they describe as racist and sexist behavior within their own club, including a club leader’s “vulgar” comment about strippers.
- More than half of the South Bunbury women’s team have quit
- It stems from an on-field racist remark which resulted in their coach resigning in protest
- A club leader also made “disgusting” comments at the women’s team season launch
Twelve players, as well as their coach, at the South Bunbury Football Club women’s team have walked away halfway through the season.
In one incident, a male club leader was forced to apologize after referring to being at a strip club during the women’s season launch.
It’s alleged he said “he needed bigger pants” to contain his excitement at being in a room full of “pretty girls”.
The team walkout came after an on-field incident in May where a rival player, Noongar man Hayden Yarran, was racially vilified by one of South Bunbury’s male league players.
That led the three-time premiership coach of the women’s team, Maxwell Jetta, to resign in protest of the way his club handled the incident.
The South Bunbury women’s team wore black t-shirts with Mr Jetta’s initials and kneeled to the ground at their match in a show of support on June 5.
The call to action was organized by assistant coach and vice captain Kate Fielding, who then received a four-week suspension for breaching several codes of conduct.
At least 12 more players have since left the club together, including Ms Fielding.
Ms Fielding said she was not told specifically what the suspension was for, but claimed it was due to her involvement in the demonstration.
“The club’s response to us trying to do something was appalling, they basically wouldn’t let us do anything,” she said.
“I have a strong stance against racism and I’m happy to be vocal about it and put myself out there and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m the one serving a four-week suspension.”
‘Disheartened’ players flee
The ABC has spoken to several players, including Amber Boyd who was also part of the team’s leadership group.
She said the events that took place had forced her to leave the sport entirely and return to playing soccer.
“They’re trying to build a reputation now on the back of this saying ‘this isn’t who we are’ but the way they’re going about it is discounting the current issue,” Ms Boyd said.
“They’re not taking responsibility … and they’re not owning that one of their players said [the racist remark].”
Karyn Beeson was leaving the club after almost four years and said she was disheartened by everything that had happened.
She said the club could have done “so much more” but instead “buried their heads in the sand” on the racial vilification incident.
“In all my time I believed that the club stood for equality and that they had certain morals and values that I myself believe in,” Ms Beeson said.
“Over the last six months the club has shown a lack of priority for those morals and values.
“We work so hard as a society in 2022 to bring awareness to [racial vilification] and it’s just disappointing to see that the club hasn’t kept up or embraced change that we’ve fought so hard for.”
Ms Fielding said the club had conducted racial vilification training before the on-field incident which she described as a “ticking the box” seminar.
“It’s been a real battle the last three years, we’ve had great success on the field but off the field it’s been hard,” Ms Fielding said.
‘Disgusting’ stripper comments
Ms Fielding said she had raised concerns to club officials about “disgusting” and “vulgar” comments made by men at the club about the women’s team.
She said the women’s team were likened to “strippers” by a male club member during the season launch at the start of this year.
In a formal complaint to the club seen by the ABC, Ms Fielding said the man also told the women he “needed bigger pants” because he was “getting too excited”.
“In 2022, I just don’t know how those sorts of comments are still being made,” Ms Fielding said.
The man was made to apologize to the women’s team after the incident.
But Ms Boyd said it was not an easy process.
“We went around in circles, and we were saying we just want an apology from this guy who’s upset us and they just didn’t see how that was a solution,” she said.
“It was just very frustrating.”
Ms Boyd said it was disappointing a club as old as South Bunbury, which was celebrating its 125-year anniversary, was not taking the lead on issues surrounding racism and sexism towards the women’s club.
South West Football League president Barry Tate said while the league did not get involved with club matters, he was concerned.
“This is very concerning to see what is happening at South Bunbury Football Club and seeing the amount of players obtaining clearances to other clubs in the last probably seven days,” he said.
Mr Tate said the claims about sexual comments being aimed at female players was “alarming” but was not private to all of the information and would speak to the club.
Club sends letter to sponsors
In an initial statement to the ABC, the South Bunbury Football Club said while it would not be drawn on specifics, Ms Fielding’s suspension was issued after repetitive and ongoing disrespect towards the club and officials.
The club confirmed nine players had requested transfers to other clubs.
“We wish the players all the best for their future football endeavors and sincerely thank them for their contribution to the club,” the statement reads.
In a letter sent to sponsors on Thursday afternoon, the club said when the women’s team asked if they could wear black t-shirts in a stance against racism, they were told they couldn’t because it needed to be approved by the board and sponsors .
The statement said Ms Fielding’s actions were “pre-meditated” and in direct contradiction to team managers’ instructions.
The club has yet to respond to the ABC about the sexist behavior experienced by its female players.
The club was fined $200 by the South West Football League tribunal over the racist abuse suffered by Mr Yarran, and was ordered to repeat the racial vilification seminar.
The club was also this week ordered by the league to issue a formal apology to Mr Yarran and his club.
Solidarity further afield
A local netball team has also made a colorful stance against racism.
The Eaton Boomers netball team played wearing yellow, black and red arm bands and took a knee during their game at the weekend.
Eaton Boomers netball club president Eleanor Yates said they wanted to show their support to Mr Yarran, Mr Jetta and the South Bunbury women’s football team.
“We wanted to really send a powerful message that basically in our community it will not be tolerated,” she said.