Wellingham: AFL needs more Indigenous coaches, administrators

Collingwood’s only Indigenous premiership player says the AFL must focus on ensuring more Indigenous players remain involved in the league after their playing days are over.

Sharrod Wellingham, a member of the Pies’ 2010 premiership team, said Collingwood’s Do Better report into racism at the club was a “positive step”, acknowledging that the Pies had made mistakes in the area.

Sharrod Wellingham (right)Credit:Sebastian Costanzo

“It’s a good step for Collingwood to have taken. They’re holding a mirror up to themselves. My reaction was it’s hopefully a positive step forward,” Wellingham told ABC Grandstand in an interview aired on Sunday.

“I was fortunate that I didn’t experience any racism on a personal level. I was able to be confident to go into the club every day and work on my craft and try to get better as a footballer. I definitely didn’t feel as if I was inhibited in any way due to being an Aboriginal boy at Collingwood Football Club.

“I’m only talking from my personal experience. That’s different to the whole premise of it being systemic racism, the way people are treated and issues are dealt with. I was fortunate that I never came up against any of those issues personally. Collingwood just needs to take ownership of the stuff that’s happened.”

West Australian Wellingham, who moved to West Coast at the end of 2012 and was delisted by the Eagles at the end of 2017, said he remained proud of his playing days at the Pies.

“I’m proud of what we did on field. I can’t say that I’m overly proud of the way that Collingwood has treated issues that it’s had in the past but I’m proud of my time at the Collingwood Football Club and I will be proud of Collingwood if they can take this time to right any errors that have been made.”

Wellingham said the league had to work to make sure Indigenous players graduated to non-playing roles, where they are vastly under-represented across the league relative to their playing numbers.

“It’s got to be about how do we keep Indigenous players in the league past playing days. We make up a huge percentage of the number of players in the league, but I don’t think there’s many coaches and people in admin roles and people in roles around the club other than playing.”

The AFL has provisions to allow female and Indigenous football department staff to be paid outside the soft cap as an incentive for clubs to hire minorities.

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