SYDNEY – Wallabies coach Dave Rennie ruled out his team taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement Friday, insisting they were not interested in making political statements.
The prospect of a silent protest during the national anthem ahead of the third Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney on October 31 against New Zealand was raised this week by senior Australian player Dane Haylett-Petty.
But Rennie dismissed the idea, saying it would draw attention away from the team’s Indigenous-themed jerseys, a tribute to Australia’s Aboriginal community.
“No we won’t,” Rennie told a virtual news conference, when asked about taking a knee. “The key thing is this is about honouring our Indigenous people and we want the focus to be on that.
“I guess everyone has their own opinions around the other situation, but we want the focus to be around reflecting our own history and our past.”
“We’re not looking to make a political statement,” he added. “We met with the leaders of the team, then they met with the rest of the team and it was a unanimous decision (not to take a knee).”
Australia are looking to level the series after drawing the first match and losing the second.The act of placing a knee on the ground was made famous by former American NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first did so in 2016 to protest police brutality against blacks and other minorities.
It gained traction worldwide earlier this year following the death of George Floyd in the United States, with teams and individual athletes across the globe coming out in support.
– ‘Stupid talk’ –
The movement also found an echo in Australia, where Indigenous groups held rallies protesting Aboriginal deaths in police custody and the disproportionate number of Indigenous people in prison.
The prospect of the Wallabies taking a knee saw former skipper Nick Farr- Jones, who led the team to World Cup glory in 1991, caution against it, warning that bringing politics into sport could turn fans off.
He added that he did not think Australia had a major issue with discrimination, sparking a rebuke from Indigenous icon Gary Ella, also a former Australian captain, who called it “stupid talk”.
Rugby Australia interim chief Rob Clarke said the governing body and the Wallabies “condemn any form of racism or discrimination and also acknowledge that we are still on the path to reconciliation”.
“The First Nations jersey is a strong statement in itself,” he said. “It has a truly global impact in raising awareness and in recognising the issues facing First Nations people.”
Australia first wore an Indigenous-themed shirt in 2017 against the All Blacks in Brisbane and have since pulled it on against England at Twickenham and during last year’s World Cup against Uruguay.
They currently have no players of Indigenous heritage in the squad, with the most recent one, Kurtley Beale, now playing in Europe.BSS/AFP