SYDNEY (Reuters) - Adam Goodes has returned to the Sydney Swans and put his hand up for selection after taking leave from the Australian Rules club under stress from the incessant booing he faced during matches.
One of the most decorated players in the popular indigenous game, Aboriginal Goodes was jeered relentlessly and racially abused in Perth last week, triggering a heated debate over racism in a country which regards itself a beacon of tolerance.
Goodes was granted an indeterminate leave of absence from the club last Tuesday and missed Saturday’s Australian Football League (AFL) match against Adelaide Crows amid media speculation he might quit the game.
But the 35-year-old was moved by a big show of support from fans, players and teams during the weekend’s matches and looked forward to returning to his “job” against Geelong Cats on Saturday.
“I definitely wasn’t in the right frame of mind to play last week against the Crows and I‘m extremely excited to be back at the club training with the players,” Goodes said in a video posted on his team’s website (sydneyswans.com.au).
”The last week there’s been a lot of discussion... I think those discussions needed to be had and I‘m really hopeful that those discussions are behind us now.
”Whether this is my last year or not I really want to be able to go out and enjoy the last five games of the season and another finals campaign.
“That’s my job, it’s what I love doing.”
An outspoken anti-racism activist and former Australian of the Year, Goodes has been jeered at grounds across the country throughout the AFL season in an embarrassing sideshow for Australia’s richest and most well-attended competition.
The booing has been branded racist by politicians and players alike, but spectators say it is motivated by their antipathy to the 365-game veteran.
Goodes appeared in good spirits on his return to training at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday, shaking hands and smiling with his team mates under the scrutiny of a dozen television camera crews.
He said he felt “very loved” over the weekend when Aboriginal players performed traditional dances in on-field tributes and fans draped banners from the terraces expressing their support.
The reception that awaits against the Cats in Geelong, a sleepy port city an hour from Melbourne, is certain to be watched closely.
Cats coach Chris Scott last week issued a stark warning to local fans.
“You wouldn’t be (booing Goodes) unless you want to confirm to the whole world that you are a bigot,” he said.
Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O'Brien