Former Kangaroo Timana Tahu calls for tougher action on social media racial abuse

Timana Tahu believes it is incumbent on governments to provide even stronger laws against racial abuse on social media, admitting it will be almost impossible to eradicate altogether.

The former Australian and NSW representative made the impassioned plea on the eve of the NRL’s Indigenous Round, which will celebrate First Nations people and raise further awareness about bridging health and employment gaps with non-Indigenous Australians.

Some of the NRL’s biggest names, including Latrell Mitchell, have called out abhorrent social media abuse in more recent times, which resulted in two men being arrested last month for online vilification of the Rabbitohs star.

But Tahu, one of the strongest advocates for his people in the game, wants even tougher action from authorities to protect Indigenous athletes, who he said use their social media platforms to spread positive messages.

“We won’t be able to eradicate it,” Tahu said. “That’s just living in a real world. It’s a fantasy world trying to achieve that.

“The biggest thing is having the backing of the NRL, the backing of governments and the rules and regulations that say people cannot be discriminative. We see a lot of negativity on social media, but there are players that use it as a positive source and as a voice for them as an individual. Mainstream media and social media can be used as a powerful tool.

“At the end of the day everyone is human. To have the NRL show that awareness on a national stage and world stage, they can play a big part by educating the fan base they have.”

All 16 NRL clubs will wear Indigenous-themed jerseys for the round, which has turned into one of the highlights of the rugby league calendar. The Broncos will host the Storm in the first match at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.

The NRL also use the week to promote its School To Work scheme, which aims to recruit Year 11 Indigenous students and ensure they finish high school before finding placement in the workforce or tertiary education.

Ninety-two per cent of the program’s participants complete Year 12 and 95 per cent of placed participants from school to work remain in employment. Tahu works as the programme’s business development manager.

“These kids are not just athletes, they’re academics as well,” Tahu said. “We get to showcase our athletes in the NRL, but there’s also a place for academics.

“You always need your top players promoting awareness of education and health. I did it when I was playing at the top of my game.

“A lot of young kids think their way out is football, but it’s more than that. You have to be educated, you have to work after football and there are some boys that work after hours during their footy career. Having someone like Latrell, he’s such an inspiration and good role medal for Indigenous communities.

“Indigenous players celebrate their culture week in week out when they run out. They represent their families, their people and the game in the most professional manner. From where Indigenous Round started until now, it’s been a massive improvement.”

The NRL will launch Indigenous Round on Tuesday morning with Australian Rugby League Commissioner Megan Davis, chief executive Andrew Abdo, and Eels winger Blake Ferguson to join Tahu, Ricky Walford and Jeff Hardy.