Dawn Fraser has been lauded as Australia’s greatest Olympian, having won an incredible 8 Olympic medals and 6 Commonwealth Games gold medals.
Her achievements have landed her a special spot in the hearts of Australians around the nation, many of whom look up to her as a role model.
Known for her exceptional freestyle ability, Fraser spent her career making waves in Olympic swimming pools.
But yesterday, she made waves of a different kind after she made derogatory comments about Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios.
The Background to the Drama
20-year-old Kyrgios has been hailed as one of Australia’s rising tennis superstars, playing numerous times at the Australian, French and US Opens, as well as Wimbledon.
But he drew criticism at this year’s Wimbledon for his puerile attitude; arguing with umpires, acting moodily and snapping at reporters during conferences.
He made headlines this week after a particularly bad match against French player Richard Gasquet; in which some accused him of ‘tanking’ – which is tennis-speak for ‘not trying.’
If proven, the allegations could have seen Kyrgios cop fines of up to $20,000 USD – adding to his current fines of $7,500 USD for unsportsmanlike conduct after he hit his racquet into the ground during a match with Milos Raonic, sending it flying towards spectators.
Kyrgios was then hit with another fine of $2,000 USD for swearing at an umpire during the heated match with Gasquet.
While Kyrgios denied the accusations and maintained that he had tried his best during the match, some have criticised his conduct, suggesting that it was highly unprofessional.
Some media outlets have gone as far as labelling Kyrgios ‘the most hated man in tennis.’
Who’s ‘Un-Australian’ Now?
Various sporting personalities have put forth their opinions about Kyrgios’ conduct on the court, with some defending his actions and others critical of them.
But when asked for her ‘two cents worth’ on national television, Dawn Fraser took her criticism to the next level.
Asked what she made of his behaviour at Wimbledon on Channel Nine’s Today Show, Fraser responded:
‘They should be setting a better example for the younger generation of this great country of ours. If they don’t like it, go back to where their parents came from. We don’t need them here in this country to act like that.’
The comments were construed by many as racist, as Kyrgios’ parents are of Greek and Malaysian heritage – although he himself was born and raised in Australia, and is of course an Australian citizen.
Kyrgios hit back at Fraser’s comments on social media, calling her a ‘blatant racist’ on Facebook.
Her comments also riled up Kyrgios’ family, with his brother and mother suggesting that her behaviour was racist and un-Australian.
Fellow Australians have backed these suggestions, with social media flooded with comments condemning Fraser’s remarks as blatantly racist.
Fraser later apologised, but Kyrgios’ family remained unconvinced, with his brother saying that ‘The apology means nothing to me.’
Many are of the view that while Fraser was free to express her opinions about Kyrgios’ performance, there was no need to bring his ethnic origin into it.
Fraser’s comments have also drawn criticism from Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, who stated at a press conference that, ‘contrary to what the likes of Dawn Fraser might say, most Australians do not tell migrants and their children to go back to where they came from.’
Racism and the Law
Fraser’s comments have reignited the debate about the Racial Discrimination Act.
Last year, efforts were made to reform section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, with controversial commentator Andrew Bolt arguing that change was necessary to protect freedom of speech.
The conservative columnist found himself in hot water after he suggested ‘fair-skinned’ people were holding themselves out as being Aboriginal for personal gain. He was found to have contravened section 18C and was ordered to apologise. He was also banned from republishing the articles in question.
Bolt subsequently tried to start a movement to have section 18C repealed – but after a lengthy and highly publicised debate, these efforts were abandoned.
But even though section 18C remains in force, Dawn Fraser’s comments are unlikely to attract the weight of the law, because previous cases make it clear that the mere ‘causing of offence’ is not unlawful.
Criminal offences that prohibit offensive language and conduct do exist – but these offences involve the application of a ‘reasonable person’ test; that is, Fraser’s language or conduct must be seen to ‘wound the feelings, arouse anger or resentment or outrage in the mind of a reasonable person.’
But once again, it is unlikely that Fraser could be successfully prosecuted under those laws.
Whatever one might think of Kyrgios and his conduct, it is disappointing that a role model like Dawn Fraser would quickly resort to racism during a televised interview.
The situation had nothing to do with race, and such divisive comments do nothing to promote harmony in our society.