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‘I decided to stand up’

2019: Australian Football League apologises to Adam Goodes

AAP Image/Tony McDonough
2000 Today

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Why do you think some people were angry with Adam Goodes when he performed the ‘war cry dance’ in 2015?

2. Why do you think it took the AFL a number of years to apologise for the treatment of Adam Goodes? Should they have acted sooner? Give reasons for your answer.

3. Imagine you are in charge of a sporting competition. What rules might you introduce to make your sport an inclusive place for everyone?

4. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the AFL’s apology to Adam Goodes is a Defining Moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which 3 images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group, create a final list of 3 questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Adam Goodes during a game, 2015</p>
Dean Lewins/AAP Image

In a snapshot

Adam Goodes was a champion Aboriginal Australian Rules footballer who took a strong stand against racism after someone shouted racist insults at him during a game. But between 2013 and 2015 he was regularly racially abused at matches. In 2019 the Australian Football League and its 18 clubs apologised to Goodes for failing to support him in this period.

Adam Goodes during a game, 2015

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. What is Rule 30 and why was it introduced by the AFL in 1995?

2. Why did Adam Goodes retire from the AFL?

3. Goodes retired in 2015. How many years later did the AFL apologise to Goodes?

Full length colour photo of an First Nations AFL player standing on the field, lifting up his jumper with one hand and pointing at his belly with the other. He has a determined and defiant expression on his face.

What is the history of racism against Aboriginal players in Australian football?

There have always been champion Aboriginal footballers but many have been racially abused by football fans and other players.  

In 1993 St Kilda star Nicky Winmar was racially abused by Collingwood fans. He responded by lifting his shirt and pointing with pride to his dark skin. Many supported Winmar but others argued that abusing players to unsettle them was part of the game. 

In 1995 the Australian Football League (AFL) added a new rule, Rule 30, banning players from using racial or religious abuse against each other. 

Since 2007 the AFL has held an annual ‘Indigenous round’. The Indigenous round celebrates and recognises the cultural contribution that Indigenous players, officials and fans make to the game.

Who is Adam Goodes?

Adam Goodes was born in 1980 and played for the Sydney Swans for his whole career from 1999 to 2015. He won two premierships with the team in 2005 and 2012 and twice won the game’s Brownlow Medal (2003 and 2006). He was a tough, competitive and skilful player.

Goodes’ Aboriginality is important to him. He was brought up by his Adnyamathanha and Narungga mother, who was a member of the Stolen Generations. She was taken from her family when she was five and never saw her parents again.

<p>Adam Goodes points out a spectator who made racist comments about him, 24 May 2013</p>

Andrew White/AFL Photos

<p>Adam Goodes points out a spectator who made racist comments about him, 24 May 2013</p>

What was the Collingwood incident?

In 2013 in the first match of the Indigenous round, the Swans were playing Collingwood. Near the end of the game a 13-year-old Collingwood fan yelled at Goodes calling him an ‘ape’ (a racist insult). Goodes called security officers who removed the girl from the ground. Collingwood officials apologised to Goodes after the game and the AFL supported him.

But some people attacked Goodes. Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt said Goodes had taken ‘outsized offence at the rudeness of a girl’. Some of the public agreed and Goodes was regularly booed by some members of the crowd at games from then on.

The girl rang Goodes to apologise. Goodes later said that, while being called ‘monkey’ or ‘ape’ was ‘shattering’ he did not blame the girl herself: ‘it’s what she hears, in the environment she’s grown up in, that has made her think that it is OK’.

Research task


In 1993 AFL player Nicky Winmar also experienced racism on the field. What similarities and differences are there between Winmar's and Goodes’ experiences?

1993: Nicky Winmar’s stand

‘I felt like I was in high school again, being bullied, being called all these names because of my appearance. I didn’t stand up for myself in high school—I’m a lot more confident, I’m a lot more proud about who I am, and my culture, and I decided to stand up last night, and I’ll continue to stand up.’

Adam Goodes, interviewed after a young Collingwood supporter called him an ‘ape’ in 2013

What happened when Goodes was made Australian of the Year?

Goodes was chosen as Australian of the Year for 2014. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that Goodes stood ‘for decency in national life’. Goodes took the opportunity to speak out against racism in Australia and later said, ‘If people only remember me for my football, I’ve failed in life’.

Yet many members of the public felt attacked. Some fans continued to boo him.

What was the war cry dance?

At the same time Goodes was engaging more with his ancestral culture. Long before the AFL accepted the idea, he had believed that Australian Rules football may have been influenced by Aboriginal games such as marngrook, which was played by the Kulin people around Melbourne.

In the 2015 Indigenous round game against Carlton at the SCG Goodes performed what was described as an ‘Aboriginal war cry dance’ to celebrate a goal. At the end of the dance he mimed throwing a spear at the Carlton fans. 

According to Goodes players on both sides ‘loved it’. But some people reacted angrily. 

Research task


Research the Aboriginal game marngrook. In what ways is this sport similar to AFL?

Why did Goodes retire?

After the war dance incident fans booed Goodes at every match. The AFL clubs tried to stop this negative behaviour and many fans and public figures stood up for him. But the booing continued and by the end of the season Goodes had had enough. He retired from the game. 

In 2019 two documentaries about Goodes were released: The Final Quarter and The Australian Dream. Both talked about the final stages of his career and the treatment he had received. 

In the same year the AFL and its 18 clubs apologised to Goodes for failing to stand up for him and ‘call out’ the treatment he was receiving. The apology ended by saying, ‘We … never want to see the mistakes of the past repeated’.

Goodes acknowledged the apology but he didn’t return to football. Since retiring he has devoted himself to organisations seeking to improve conditions for Aboriginal people.


Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. What is Rule 30 and why was it introduced by the AFL in 1995?

2. Why did Adam Goodes retire from the AFL?

3. Goodes retired in 2015. How many years later did the AFL apologise to Goodes?