Case closed, but questions persist around racial slur

A month after a spectator yelled out the N-world at a USyd rugby match, no one has come forward to identify the mystery racist

Photo taken at SUFC 1st Grade v Manly. Source: AJF Photography

On May 12, a young woman attending the annual ‘Ladies Day’ match at Sydney Uni’s football grounds yelled the N-word at a New Zealand guest player. The woman also allegedly said something to the effect of “go back to where you came from’”. The game had not started yet; according to reports, the Manly Marlins forward, Brad Hemopo, was warming up when the comment was hurled in his direction.

Nearly a month on, she is yet to be identified. The internal investigation around the event has concluded, bearing no results. Despite the public attention from mainstream media, not a single witness from the crowd came forward to share her name or shed light on what happened that day.

Reports paint her as “unruly” and “intoxicated”. On the Facebook event, guests were encouraged to enjoy “rugby, drinks, music and entertainment” with a glass of bubbly on arrival and discounted drinks for ticket holders.

“It’s very unlikely to be someone from our community, because we are very welcoming,” said Jamie Barbour, long-term player for Sydney University Women’s Rugby Club. “Every year we have a culture night to understand where everyone comes from and who our family is at the club.”

“It is known [that] partners/girlfriends do have a bit too much to drink” at special events such as Ladies Day, said Barbour. “So [it] potentially could have been someone from outside of our club.”

When asked if this alleged excessive alcohol consumption could have come into play with the mystery woman’s behaviour, both Sydney University Sport and Fitness (SUSF) and Sydney University Football Club (SUFC) denied a correlation, emphasising their adherence to responsible service of alcohol laws. Similarly, reports say that the presence of RSA marshals was increased compared to last year. The USyd Football Club maintains that signs, documents and their website warn patrons that those found “verbally attacking players or officials will be asked to leave”.  SUFC also hires contracted security guards at all events, who monitor the crowd to remove individuals when required.

With her identity shrouded in secrecy, it’s impossible to say for sure whether she was a local or guest to the USyd grounds. SUFC described their supporter base as “diverse” and being “generally drawn from the wider community, including the University”. However, they emphasised that students “do not make up the majority of the viewership”.

And yet, Fairfax reported at the time that she is “believed to be known by people at the ground” and there is also a “strong suggestion she knows she is being chased down”. According to the University, if she was ever found out to be a student, her actions would breach the student Code of Conduct as well as various bullying, harassment and discrimination policies and procedures which could lead to fines, suspension or expulsion. Staff or affiliates could face disciplinary action or termination of employment. The University did not specify if these punishments could or would be applied retrospectively if new information arose. A SUFC representative told Fairfax that the person, regardless of who they are, would be banned from future games.

After the incident, Brad Hemopo reached out to Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence, to air his grievances. In Spence’s response email, obtained by Honi, the Vice-Chancellor was apologetic for the “abhorrent” event.

“Threatening, intimidating behaviour and any sort of racism or prejudice is simply unacceptable,” he wrote. According to Spence, he personally aired his grievances to the Executive of both SUSF and SUFC to ensure similar “behaviour does not happen again”.

The methods and findings of the investigation are not fully transparent. Fairfax reported that interviews were conducted and the rugby club had asked “anyone in attendance … to come forward if they [had] any information”. There were no public appeals on the Facebook event, page or SUFC’s website. SUFC sent an electronic newsletter to all members and supporters, and according to Fairfax, SUFC partnered with Manly officials to find out who made the comments.

When Honi probed about the findings of the report, SUFC reiterated that they could not identify any individuals who either witnessed or were responsible for the racial abuse. However, as David Haigh, Executive General Manager puts it, “The scope of SUFC’s investigation was to identify the individuals… not to question whether the [racial abuse] occurred or not”.

Thus, with no one coming forward, no further action was deemed necessary and the investigation closed. SUFC has finalised their report, distributed it to the relevant parties and, as a University representative told Honi, because they were unable to identify anyone involved, no further action will be taken to track or reprimand the offending person.

Yet more questions remain: why is the mystery woman being protected? Why have her friends, who would have most likely attended the match with her, turned a blind eye to her behaviour? Why has no stranger, in the same row or surrounding area, thought to report what they saw or heard? Even players from the USyd team have refused to provide comment to Honi.

While the severe repercussions of her actions would shock the perpetrator out of coming forward, the complacency of those around her and lack of determination by relevant USyd bodies to track her down are equally concerning.