Indigenous Aussie Rules icon Betts calls it quits

Melbourne (AFP) –


One of Australia's highest-profile Indigenous athletes and a leader in the fight against racism called it quits Tuesday after 16 years at the top of Australian Rules football.

Eddie Betts, one of the game's great showmen, said he planned to hang up his boots after his 350th game this weekend.

"Thanks for sticking by me through the highs and lows," he said in an Instagram message.

"I hope at some point in my career I was able to put a smile on your face. If I did, I'm happy and my work is done here."

The 34-year-old is regarded as one of the greatest-ever kickers in Australia's most popular spectator sport, slotting 638 goals since playing his first game for Carlton in 2005.

In his later years, he became a strong anti-racism advocate, making passionate pleas to the Australian public to stand up and call it out.

Betts once had a banana thrown at him by a spectator and only last year was depicted as a monkey in a Twitter post on the very weekend all teams united in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

He regularly admitted the fight against racism had taken its toll, but kept going to help drive change.

"It deeply hurts, and you think to yourself, 'Why do I keep playing footy if I keep copping this?' But I want to make a change," he told reporters last year.

"The way to hurt these guys is keep playing great footy and keep smiling and that's what I love doing."

Aussie Rules, which is similar to Ireland's Gaelic football, has long featured Indigenous stars, many of whom have been the target of racism, both on-field and off.

The game's governing body began proactively tackling the issue in the 1990s, but underlying problems persist.