“It’s not just a Collingwood problem, it’s a problem for the entire country and we see it across the football league, but racism in different forms is everywhere. We want to start to see different types of people from the leadership down, in the organisations, in the League itself, with real legitimate power that can affect change and bring different perspectives… where lots of different types of people can contribute to making the game better.” – Rana Hussain

Following on from the damning Do Better report uncovering a “culture of systemic racism” at Collingwood Football Club, an Anti-Racism Advisory Committee was established to assist the club in developing a framework of change.  We interviewed Rana Hussain who’s been appointed to the Committee.

Listen to the interview here (18mins):

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

Rana Hussain:

I was born here in Melbourne in 1986 and my parents arrived in Australia, in the early 70s, from India. They came as skilled migrants, both doctors. It was an interesting time because the white Australia policy had just been dismantled politically. It was a period of transition for the country.

We very much lived a Muslim and Indian life at home and my parents always prioritised Islam from an identity point of view, for us. Being Indian was important and definitely added so much to our culture and our lifestyle, but they always instilled in us the idea that we were Muslims first and that our faith was the core of who we are and then after that we were Australian and Indian.

My sisters and I went to a private girls school from kindergarten through to year 12 and that was its own really nurturing, positive community environment.  I have great memories of my school life in Australia.

I felt like I belonged and then we had the Muslim and Indian cultural environment at home that I felt like I belong to. Of course, as we all know, being kids of migrants ourselves, there’s always tension in that too in shaping who we are and how we see ourselves.

You’re currently with Richmond football club.  Tell us a bit about your role there.

Rana Hussain:

For the last five years I’ve been working at the Richmond Footy Club, as the diversity and inclusion lead. I studied a Bachelor of Creative Arts out of high school and I did a masters in social work and I went into school counselling.  I worked at an Islamic school and I really thought that would be the path that I’d go down.

I just became more and more interested in how does football interact with how we see ourselves.  What about those of us who are from different backgrounds; how do we interact with football and do we see ourselves in the game? I just started to get more and more involved and, eventually, I realise, I had a really deep love and passion for the sport, but also representation in the sport and in media.

I want to see different voices, diverse voices in the media and in sport.  I decided to take a risk and leave my job as a school counsellor.  Richmond were looking for somebody to come in and do some multicultural work for them, so I just dived into the deep end.

At the club I look at questions like; What does belonging mean? What does it mean to belong at Richmond and in football and particularly is the club inclusive of different types of communities?

Can a Muslim walk in and be who they are, not changed, but still be part of the Richmond footy club. Can people with disabilities come into the club and feel like they can belong too?

It’s those kinds of conversations that I’ve been leading from the club.  That’s led me to now do a lot of consulting for other organisations like Ben Simmons in the NBA basketball and other sporting codes like Cricket Australia.

Can you tell us about your role as a part of the anti-racism advisory committee.  What are some of the things that you’d like to see change at the Collingwood FC?

Rana Hussain:

This will be a huge piece of work that I’m about to take on.  The group is formed to implement the recommendations that came out of the Do Better report that Collingwood commissioned to investigate what racism looked like in and around the club.  The club has historical incidences of racism.

In our forum we looked at the processes that the club has at the moment to manage those situations and whether the club is capable of managing incidences of racism. Our job will be to implement a lot of those recommendations and advise the club on how they actually can “do better,” and what would that look like.

It’s not just a Collingwood problem, it’s a problem for the entire country and we see it across the Football League, but racism in different forms is everywhere.

We want to start to see different types of people from the leadership down, in the organisations, in the League itself, with real legitimate power that can affect change and bring different perspectives around what it feels like to be on the outside of football or on the outer of mainstream society.

That’s what I hope to leave behind when I do leave the industry one day, where lots of different types of people can contribute to making the game better.

From a racism point of view, I think some really strong education around what racism looks like when it’s not the one to one conversations, because we can all recognise a harsh word said or a racist comment.

What we don’t recognise so readily is when our systems and our structures exclude people. Those are the things I wanted to try and break down and it’s going be a lot of work, but hopefully we do something meaningful there.

As an Australian Muslim woman, and in general, have you faced any obstacles on your journey to where you are?

Rana Hussain:

Sometimes I think I don’t even know when I have faced them.  I think the barriers can often be blurred. We get relegated to parts of society so it’s not that anybody’s ever mean to me or refuses me opportunities, but I often find that people don’t consider me.

I’ve been doing a lot more media now and up until recently, when I used to say, I want to get on camera or I want to be a broadcaster, people are surprised by that because they’ve never really seen a hijabi Muslim woman on camera.

It was just about getting people to think a little bit outside what they know and what they expect of me when they see me. I think there are the stereotypes that we all deal with and are constantly breaking down for people.

The flip side of that is that I’ve seen a change in that people now want different voices.  What used to feel like a barrier is now so much closer and people want to hear different types of experiences.

They want to hear from different Australians and what I used to think would hold me back is now my unique selling point, what’s getting me through doors.  My advice to anyone who feels on the outer is to use that as your point of difference.

What advice would you give to young Muslim women that are looking to pursue positions in leadership and on board in media and sports?

Rana Hussain:

The biggest piece of advice, I have to give it to myself before anyone else is, to hold on to your faith and to really make that The Center of everything you do. The opportunities might come and go, but if that’s what you’re holding on to, then you will always win because you know what’s driving you.

You have that strong inner compass. Don’t think that you don’t belong, because you do, you have every right to and you might look different, sound different, be different, but that doesn’t make you less. It just makes you different and actually that could potentially be your strength that you can leverage.

Make sure you have a good circle of people who get you to understand who you are and whose experiences mirror yours, because the world can sometimes feel really isolating if you’re the only one in the room who’s a little bit different.

My experience going to really male dominated industries and really white industries I realised, no matter how well-meaning people are in those spaces, they don’t know what it’s like to be Muslim and they don’t know what it’s like to be Muslim in this country.

I really rely on my family to have that connection back to who I am, my identity, a safe space for me to turn to. Don’t ever lose sight of those people in your life that really support you, without any agenda.

Do you have any closing comments for our readers?

Rana Hussain:

I want to thank my parents for their guidance and support, Alhamdulillah.  They gave me the tools I need to get to where I am.

I see myself, even in my day to day when I’m doing different things, I see the input, I can see the purpose.

My mother is still a working woman and she showed me the strength it takes to do what I’m doing now.