Drew Mitchell has hit back at Nick Farr-Jones, calling the former Wallabies captain’s comments about racial discrimination in Australia “disappointing” and “naive.”
Farr-Jones said he doesn’t believe Australia has “a major issue in relation to discrimination of coloured people,” and urged the Wallabies not to take a knee ahead of this weekend’s Bledisloe Cup match in Sydney.
The 58-year-old was reacting to comments made by Dane Haylett-Petty, who said the side would consider kneeling during the national anthem while wearing the Indigenous jersey against the All Blacks on Saturday.
Farr-Jones, who captained the Wallabies to victory at the 1991 Rugby World Cup , believes taking a knee is “too risky,” could alienate viewers and argued people don’t want to see politics in sport.
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Former Wallabies back Mitchell hit back, saying Farr-Jones’ comments were wide of the mark.
“Something like that (taking a knee) does have the potential to divide, but if you stand for nothing, you fall for everything,” Mitchell told Sporting News.
“The thing I was most disappointed about with Nick Farr-Jones’ comments was when he said ‘we don’t have any problems in racial discrimination.’
“I think that’s just about the most naive comment almost I’ve ever heard.
“He needs to watch The Australian Dream about the Adam Goodes story. And not just that, but using his story as a way of telling the greater story of a really dark mark in our history about how we treated/are treating our First Nations people.
“For someone of his (Farr-Jones’) stature to come out and say that – in a week where we’re wearing a First Nations jersey – is really disappointing and so wide of the mark as well.”
Mitchell isn’t the first former Wallaby to respond, with Gary Ella calling Farr-Jones’ comments “stupid talk.”
“That obviously shows that Nick doesn’t have a full appreciation of the history of Aboriginal people in this country,” Ella told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Those type of comments are totally ignoring the history.”
This Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup match will be the fourth time the Wallabies have worn a First Nations jersey, after first donning it in a 2017 win over the All Blacks in Brisbane.
Since then, the side has worn an Indigenous jersey against England at Twickenham and during the Rugby World Cup in Japan last year.
Mitchell said the First Nations jersey is a great first step, but stressed there’s a long way still to go.
“The First Nations people are such a huge part of the fabric of us as Australians, who we are, where we’ve got to and where we still need to get to,” Mitchell said.
“They should be a part of the fabric of our jersey that we represent.
“While we’re making some good strides in that area – I think we’re the first national team in Australia to wear an Indigenous jersey – I still think there’s a way to go.
“Not just with those shows of gratitude and support, but also identifying there’s still plenty that we can do.
“We can’t just ignore our history. As hard as it is to accept for us as a nation, that is our history.
“We need to accept it, and we need to make sure we don’t turn away from it and not accept it, because there’s still a long way to go in those areas.”
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has since confirmed the side won’t take a knee ahead of the Bledisloe Cup this weekend.
“This is about honouring our Indigenous people, we want the focus to be on that,” he said.
“We talked about the Indigenous jersey, the group would like to see that represented every week in our Test jersey, not just as a one-off, so I think this is a first step in regard to embracing that part of our history.”
Mitchell also supports this idea.
“I’ve said it since the first jersey that Kurtley Beale was right behind in pushing, we shouldn’t just have it on our jersey one game of the year,” he said.
“I think it should be embossed, and it should be enhanced in that one game.
“But I think for every other Test, we should have the same design.”
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