Former cross-code Australia rugby star Wendell Sailor speaks exclusively to Sky Sports about the racist abuse he experienced during his career, the Black Lives Matter protests, and more…
There’s not many rugby league or union fans who would not know Wendell Sailor.
‘Big Dell’, as he is fondly known, is a Brisbane Broncos legend, a formidable opponent and an explosive winger, who was a hard worker and prolific try-scorer.
The dual-code international represented Australia in both Rugby League and Rugby Union World Cups. At the 2000 Rugby League World Cup, he was the top try-scorer and player of the tournament as he helped guide the Kangaroos to the ultimate prize.
But on the latest episode of the Sky Sports Golden Point podcast, he opened up for the first time about the racist abuse he has encountered throughout his life.
“You guys are really the first sort of interview that I’ve really done, other than our radio show on Triple M,” the 45-year-old told Golden Point.
“People know what I’ve been through because I’ve done articles on it time and time again, but I think for me this is pretty big.
“To tell you my side of the story. It’s massive.
“I don’t want to go back naming teams or naming players, but since I was seven or eight, I’ve had it (racist abuse) in football, I’ve had it out of football.
“It still happens.”
The Black Lives Matter movement is something that Sailor admits has affected him and his family and says he can’t believe race is still a problem in 2020.
“For me, because I’m of indigenous background, it’s been tough. I have a young daughter, two sons. It’s just so close to home.
“I see it happens in the Premier League to some of the great black soccer players. The NBA, it happens in the NBA.
“It’s gut-wrenching to see, especially when you have young kids and you just want it to change, and you think it is going to change.”
Sailor spent almost 10 years playing for the Brisbane Broncos in Australia’s top rugby league competition, before switching codes in 2001.
“I’ve seen a bit of it (racism) throughout my career and I had a little bit of it, but you just learn to deal with it. Where in 2020 now, things have got to change.
“I suppose I have never gotten into it so much outside of my work, but I remember as a young international, playing for the Kangaroos, it happened.
“I won’t say the team, I don’t want to get into it, because it happened to me and I sort of left it on the field.
“The bloke who racially vilified me, just sort of shook hands and left it there. That’s what you did back in the 90s.
“I suppose when I played in the NRL, it happened once or twice. Rugby not so much.
“Even when I went to South Africa, it happened with the fans. But you just learn to live with it.”
Sailor has played both codes of rugby at the highest level, achieving great success throughout his career.
When asked if the abuse affected his game or mental health, he responded: “At the time probably not, because if you need to racially vilify me, that’s your problem, it’s not my problem.
“So I used it. The more you went at me, the more it built me up. I’m going to take a tougher carry, I’m going to try and score a try, that’s my way of saying: ‘Come at me with everything you’ve got.’
“But I’ll be honest, at stages I may have had some days where I was: like ‘what?’ I don’t see colour.
“I played against Baz (Barrie McDermott) a few times, I wouldn’t run too much through the middle around big Baz there, because he would come out of the line and smash you.
“I played against Martin Offiah, Jason Robinson, you know Kris Radlinski and I would have some sledging matches, but nothing about colour.”
Like so many, the dual-code international hopes that one day soon, race isn’t a problem, or even a talking point.
“Now that I’m older I think I’m more shattered for my kids. Not that they have to go through it but that it’s still here.
“When I was younger – I’m 45 now – I thought it was going to change, but here we are in 2020 and we are still talking about it and still trying to make a change. It breaks my heart.”