June 11, 2020 / 1:20 PM / a month ago

Australian Rules-AFL resumes with a thriller and an anti-racism protest

MELBOURNE, June 11 (Reuters) - After a nearly three-month pause due to COVID-19, the Australian Football League resumed at an empty Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday where a thrilling draw between bitter cross-town rivals played out against a background of anger at racial injustice.

Defending champions Richmond Tigers clawed back a four-goal deficit to reel in the Collingwood Magpies 5.6(36) - 5.6(36) in the first clash since the top flight of Australian Rules was suspended in March.

It was a disappointing finish for the Magpies, whose preparations for the second round game were overshadowed by allegations of racism from a former player during the week.

Heritier Lumumba, the AFL’s first Brazil-born player, launched a scathing attack on the club where he played 199 games, including the 2010 championship, from 2005-2014.

The 33-year-old wrote on social media here that he had endured a "culture of racist jokes" at Collingwood and was "ostracised internally" after he complained about racism.

He said Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley had criticised him for speaking out against long-serving club president Eddie McGuire, who made racist a joke on radio about Aboriginal player Adam Goodes in 2013 and later apologised for it.

Lumumba’s broadside came amid lingering outrage over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last month, which prompted protests around the world.

Collingwood and Richmond players gathered in the centre of the MCG before Thursday’s match and kneeled on one knee for half a minute in an act of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Buckley addressed Lumumba’s allegations in the post-match media conference and said he had tried to reach out to him.

“I’m not comfortable that ... Heritier feels that he’s been a little bit diminished in our environment,” Buckley said.

“I haven’t spoken to H (Lumumba) since 2014. I would love to speak to him again, I would love for him to come to his old football club and to see what we have become and the culture of acceptance, the celebration of difference, no matter your colour, your religion.

“But I’m really proud of the club that we are now but I’d love to share that with him.”

McGuire told a chat-show on local broadcaster Channel Nine on Wednesday that he wanted to bring Lumumba back to the club to give him a life membership.

“We’re all about trying to get a solution. We’re not defending ourselves,” he said.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Toby Davis

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