Australian football players wear blackface to dress up as Venus and Serena Williams

Maya Oppenheim
The Australian football club apologised 'unreservedly' for the furore: Getty

An Australian football club has been forced to apologise after its players wore blackface while dressed up as Venus and Serena Williams.

Mitch Stanley and Matt Chamberlain, both members of the Australian Penguin Football Club in Tasmania, can be seen wearing black body paint plastered on their faces and bodies and black wigs and tennis skirts.

One of the members of the club shared a photo on a public Facebook – prompting outrage and accusations of racism.

The men dressed up as the legendary tennis champions in celebration of the end of the footballers’ season, which is known as Mad Monday.

Beau Grundy – who wore blackface and dressed up as Kenyan-born Sydney Swans Australian Football League player Aliir Aliir, who was the first Sudanese player taken in the league’s draft – was also in the photo.

The football club has since apologised – saying the costume “is unacceptable in this day and age.”

One social media wrote: “Some Australians still have no clue what is considered racist. This Mad Monday ‘costume’ is clearly racist. And I’m a person who is fed up with today’s over-the-top political correctness."

Michael Mansell, a Tasmanian Aboriginal activist who played football for North Hobart and Launceston, called the behaviour “offensive to most reasonable people”.

He told Australian Broadcasting Corp “the message is that [people] are free to make a mockery of people who are not white. There are more and more immigrants coming to Australia, to start a new life. They see this sort of behaviour and wonder what they’ve migrated to.”

He added: “How many young Aboriginal players would want to go now to the Penguin Football Club or be part of the NWFL [North West Football League] if this is the sort of attitude that is allowed to happen?”

The Australian football club apologised “unreservedly” for the furore.

“It was not their intention to upset anyone and all they meant to do was dress as one of their sporting idols,” the club said in a statement.

“Their actions were never intended to be racist in any way. Those concerned have been reprimanded and will be given support to make sure they understand that their behaviour was racist and hurtful and that it will not happen again.

“The players concerned have acknowledged that what they did was completely and utterly unacceptable and would like to apologise unreservedly for their lack of judgment.”

The saga comes just a week after an Australian newspaper published a controversial cartoon of Williams which was widely condemned as racist.

Mark Knight’s cartoon, which appeared in Australian newspaper Herald Sun, showed Williams throwing a tantrum as a smashed racket and dummy lay on the court during the final against Naomi Osaka.

Critics said the illustration – which depicts the 23-time Grand Slam winner with a large figure and exaggerated pink lips – is based on racist and sexist tropes and perpetuates the stereotype of the “angry black woman”.

The Herald Sun has defended its decision to publish the drawing, which has been compared to the stereotypes seen in anti-black political cartoons from the Jim Crow era in the US.

“I drew this cartoon Sunday night after seeing the US Open final, and seeing the world’s best tennis player have a tantrum and thought that was interesting,” Knight wrote in the paper.

“The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race. The world has just gone crazy.”

Damon Johnston, an editor for The Herald Sun, also defended the cartoon, which has been criticised by JK Rowling and Nicki Minaj among others.

“A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and Mark’s cartoon depicted that. It had nothing to do with gender or race. This was about a bad sport being mocked.”

The paper republished the cartoon of Williams on a special front page attacking “self-appointed censors” who branded its depiction racist and sexist. It was republished under the headline: “Welcome to PC World.”