Tackling racism

Gatgong Majok founder of the Sandown Lions. 105633_02


THEY fled ugly racial prejudice in the land of their birth – but in Australia, they say they have found more of the same.
The Sandown Lions claim racial taunts are part and parcel of match day.
Club founder Gatgong Majok says that despite racist slurs and biased umpiring, the club is still tearing its way up the state league ladder doing what it can to combat racism in the hope that it will be easier for future generations.
“We have to pay the price now instead of our children paying the price later. If we give up against racial abuse, nothing will be done.”
He blames racism for his club’s ugly tribunal record including charges of referee abuse and melees, despite Football Federation Victoria promoting a zero-tolerance approach.
In a game in 2011, players were repeatedly taunted with the “N-word” by rival players out of earshot of the referee, Mr Majok claims.
The rival team was subsequently fined $750 for racist or abusive comments; the Lions fined $1700 for failing to control its infuriated players and for abusive language.
He said the club had endured hostile referees who extend games until the opposing side kicked a winning goal, had ignored their pleas against unfair play and issued “undeserved” red cards.
“There needs to be education, not only of the referees but in the community.”
The FFV tribunal has found the Lions and its players guilty of serious misconduct, including melees, six times in the past three years.
A spokeswoman said the Lions’ claims of racial abuse had not been substantiated.
“Allegations of this nature have never been followed by any evidence that supports an actual bias against the club, player or ethnic group concerned.
“We have not received any reports of racial vilification that have not come as a response to alleged misconduct.”
She said players were encouraged to report racial abuse to referees rather than retailiate. About half of 12 racial abuse cases have been upheld at the tribunal in the past five years.
“FFV is proud of the fact it has decreased incidents of misconduct by 38 per cent in the past five years due to its continued commitment to the zero tolerance policy.”
The club started as a group of Neur men – from South Sudan – kicking among themselves in a park.
Since 2008, the Lions have blended players from African, Asian and European cultures and languages, scratched together registration and match fees without a sponsor and claimed 18 trophies. With a win next Saturday it will be promoted to State League 4.
Mr Majok says the club has helped keep young migrant and refugee men on the right path.
A strict no-training-no-selection policy deterred them from drinking in parks, drug abuse and sedentary lifestyles.
“That’s what we talk about. If your life has become about alcohol and bad things, you’re not going to have all the things that you want.
“Try to find something else to do, try to find a job. For a start, if you’re coming home from training, you’re too tired to go out drinking.”
The side is starting to inspire the African community. Elders, who had dismissed the club as “just a bit of fun”, are coming on board to help run the club.
A public fund-raiser this month accumulated $11,000 in cash and pledges towards the club’s running costs.
The dream is to grow the club further, enlisting female and junior sides. Mr Majok says the club just needs a sponsor “to give us a chance”.
“But even if we don’t get a sponsor, this group will stick together.”
To help, call Mr Majok on 0402 033 858 or sandownl@yahoo.com. The Lions’ final match this season is at Ross Reserve, Noble Park on Saturday, 3pm.