Last night, the now former Adelaide recruiting manager Matt Rendell insisted that his comment about only drafting an Aboriginal player if they had a white parent was taken well out of context, and was nothing more than a ‘silly throwaway line’.
Rendell claims that he was simply providing an example of what could happen in the AFL, if no action is taken to lower the currently high attrition rate among young indigenous players.
The number of indigenous players that came off club primary lists at the end of 2011 rose to 20, from 17 at the end of 2010.
Whilst breaking his silence, on Channel Nine’s Footy Classified last night, Rendell disagreed with AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou’s version of the events. Demetriou told Fox Sports’ On the Couch that he had offered Rendell an opportunity to take back his comments last week. However, Rendell denies this and is adamant that no such opportunity had been put forth to him.
Demetriou also claimed that ‘he was asked to go away and think about it, and he came back and he doesn’t resolve from those comments’. To this, Rendell responded emotionally, ‘I’ve never had a policy like that in my life. It’s ridiculous’.
‘The comment I made originally and stupidly tried to over-emphasise the problem that we’ve got at the moment’.
He claims that during the conversation where the alleged comments were made, he was talking to AFL Community engagement manager Jason Mifsud, and discussing an indigenous scholarship idea to help keep young Aboriginals in the game.
Mifsud told The Age of Rendell’s comments, which ultimately resulted in Adelaide asking Rendell to resign. Rendell emphasised that losing his job was the least of his worries.
‘I don’t care about the job […] My greatest fear is that one of the hundreds of Aboriginal people I’ve met along the way over the past 35 years … thought I was a racist. (Since Friday) Every time I tried not to think about it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it’.
Rendell was close to tears on the show last night and admitted; ‘I’ve been crying for 30 hours. […] I’ve got a five-pound ball in my guts, I hope it goes after tonight’.
Former Adelaide champion player Andrew McLeod told Adelaide radio station 5AA that he is ‘shattered’ about the way his former club has been questioned about their attitude towards Aboriginal players. ‘If this was the case and I had an inkling that my club was racist, I wouldn’t have spent 16 years in the establishment’. McLeod also stated that he had never seen racist qualities in Rendell. ‘What I do know is that in all my dealings with Matt Rendell I have never seen it,’ McLeod said.
Former St.Kilda coach Grant Thomas, who has worked with both Rendell and Mifsud, believes that both the AFL and Adelaide have overreacted. ‘The AFL had a grand opportunity to send a very strong message to everyone in football, and I think it is a very simple issue that has been grossly exaggerated,’ Thomas said. ‘I think it’s a disrespectful and overbearing way to handle or deal with someone who has had 35 years in the game.’
At a press conference on Friday night, Adelaide CEO Steven Trigg said that Rendell’s comments made his position at the club untenable. ‘The comments out there are attributed to our former recruiting manager and we can’t have them attached to the club,’ Trigg said. ‘To have any such commentary associated with our club, in any way, is absolutely untenable.’
Although the context of Rendell’s words may have been lost in translation, considering it was said in January, Demetriou is adamant that context does not matter and that Rendell’s words were unacceptable.
‘I don’t care how you want to say it, whatever context you want to put that in. It’s completely unacceptable, completely unacceptable now and completely unacceptable in the future,’ Demetriou said.