Ex-Gold Coast Player Joel Wilkinson Set To Sue AFL Over Alleged Racial Abuse, Sexual Harassment

Another Australian sporting code is in damage control after former Gold Coast Suns player Joel Wilkinson launched legal action against the AFL over claims of racial abuse and sexual harassment.

What you need to know
  • Joel Wilkinson will file legal action to the Human Rights Commission against the AFL over claims the organisation failed its duty of care
  • The former Gold Coast Suns player alleges he faced discrimination, vilification and harassment by AFL staff, club officials and teammates
  • He also alleges he faced racially motivated sexual harassment in the changerooms

The AFL is headed to the Human Rights Commission after former Gold Coast Suns player Joel Wilkinson launched legal action against his former club and the game's governing body, claiming he endured years of racial abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of staff and fellow players.

The 26-year-old will argue the AFL failed in its duty of care by allowing him to be subjected to discrimination, vilification and harassment on both racial, sexual and religious grounds by AFL staff, his club, officials and teammates, despite repeated requests for help.

Following failed talks with the AFL, the case is expected to be filed to the Human Rights Commission on Monday.

The case will also allege Wilkinson, who is of Nigerian descent, faced racially motivated sexual harassment in the changerooms by other players on numerous occasions throughout his three-year career with the club.

Wilkinson made his professional debut at 19 with the Gold Coast Suns. Image: Getty

He is seeking compensation for the loss of past and future wages, as well as the pain, suffering and humiliation he has endured.

Will Barsby, an employment law expert with Shine Lawyers, said the AFL had failed Wilkinson by allowing “horrific racial abuse, sexual taunting in the locker room, bullying and mistreatment”.

“In Australia, playing AFL is a full time job for many young people and like any job there are laws to protect your rights in the workplace,” he said.

"The AFL isn’t exempt from these laws just because it is a national past time. Sport is a business, players are employees."

Wilkinson made his professional debut with the Suns in 2011 at the age of 19, however was de-listed a short time after in 2013.

After a failed attempt to be redrafted into the AFL by signing with the semi-professional Northern Blues in 2014, his lawyers claim Wilkinson was not offered further work within the AFL industry as a result of speaking racism against him.

"The AFL failed to protect Mr Wilkinson from vilification from his very first professional game," Barsby said.

"They have let our client down and allowed the abuse to continue, it's cut short his career and he's been punished for speaking out about being shunned by clubs for his stance against racism.

"We wouldn't let this happen in any Australian workplace, why should the footy field or change rooms be any different?"

A spokesman for the AFL said the organisation "will respond when we need to legally".