Prominent sports agent Khoder Nasser, who represents Anthony Mundine and Sonny Bill Williams, has publicly expressed concern over the perceived racism within rugby league that led to his clients leaving the sport. Further, he voiced apprehensions about whether South Sydney full-back Latrell Mitchell may be similarly driven out of the sport due to the racism he experiences.
The recent spotlight on Mitchell’s well-being stems from reports indicating that concerns about the rising turmoil within the Rabbitohs club were raised with NRL head Andrew Abdo by Mitchell’s consultant, Matt Rose. This tension was escalated further due to a leaked text message directed towards Rabbitohs chairman, Nick Pappas from Rod Churchill, son of South Sydney and Rugby League icon Clive Churchill, labelling Mitchell a “fraud” and a “crippling force” for the team.
Nasser has drawn attention to the persistent issue of racial discrimination in the sport, recently highlighted again due to Mitchell’s situation. “This sport is racist,” Nasser told the press, “It’s utterly apparent. It’s shocking. It drove Anthony and Sonny away from the sport. It has to be addressed so that we can progress. We don’t want a repeat of the Anthony Mundine or Sonny Bill Williams situation. Anthony was rightfully very outspoken about it.”
Anthony Mundine has continuously demonstrated zero tolerance for any racial bias he has experienced and continues to do so. “Every individual faced with such racism responds in their own way. Anthony was open about it. Latrell, on the other hand, is more eloquent through his silence. His feelings need to be understood,” Nasser declared.
Nasser further explained his worries concerning the possible outcomes for Mitchell. “It’s pitiful that such an accomplished player is under this kind of stress, constantly being criticised and scrutinised. I sincerely hope it doesn’t force him to leave the sport entirely. I’ve encountered this before.”
Mitchell, having been a champion for Indigenous rights since his league debut, has used his elevated profile to shed light on societal injustices and simultaneously display a road to success for First Nations athletes. His stance has been appreciated by the Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys, who arranged a meeting with premier Indigenous players in 2019 amidst anxieties about Mitchell’s treatment upon leaving the Roosters.
Nasser disapproved of Churchill’s remarks about Mitchell in the text messages, particularly the allegation that the player prioritises the Aboriginal cause above the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Nasser retorted, “Any level-headed individual would agree that the current Aboriginal situation here is far more significant than your football team.”
Furthermore, Nasser touched on the apology following the insulting text message incident. “The apology has to be accepted foremost by Latrell, as the attack was directly aimed at him and the Aboriginal community as a whole.”
As another concern, Nasser believes prevalent systems exploit and take advantage of the vulnerable, including gifted players like Sonny Bill Williams from low socio-economic backgrounds. He expressed this thought by stating, “It’s absolutely outrageous that Mundine never got selected for Australia. Everyone could see what it was – racism.”
Nasser has endured considerable backlash for his relationship with Mundine and Williams. Williams received criticism from angry Canterbury fans after walking out on them early in his career to play rugby union in France. Nasser feels both Williams’ Polynesian background and Islamic conversion contributed significantly to how he was perceived within the rugby community.
Nasser proposed a remedy for the prevalent issue, advocating for a fair recognition and representation of young Aboriginal and Pacific Islanders at various levels in the sport, including coaching, board representation and media presence. He suggested enforced quotas at the coaching and board levels that reflect the considerable contribution of Indigenous and Polynesian communities to the sport.
He further stated, “Implementing this strategy could rectify the current power imbalance. South African rugby union introduced this idea long ago and went on to win the last World Cup. Achievements can be accomplished both professionally and on a humanitarian level simultaneously. They are not mutually exclusive.”