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Australian News

Football advocate Bonita Mersiades wins support from former Socceroos over defamation case


One of Australia’s most outspoken football advocates is being sued by two senior administrators in a move her supporters say is “spurious”.

Bonita Mersiades is being sued by Football Queensland (FQ) chairman Ben Richardson and its CEO, Robert Cavallucci, for a total of $800,000 over an article she published in January this year on her website Football Today.

In a statement on a GoFundMe page set up to help pay her legal fees, Ms Mersiades wrote: “The article in question set out a series of sequential facts, based on evidence in my possession. It drew no conclusion and made no allegations of wrongdoing against either man.”

Mr Richardson and Mr Cavallucci claim the allegations are untrue.

Ms Mersiades has received a statement of support from a group of former Socceroos known as The Golden Generation, which includes John Aloisi, Lucas Neill, Craig Moore and Mark Viduka.

The article alleged Mr Richardson was last year paid $44,000 for two month’s work by FQ, via his own recruiting company, to conduct what it said in a media statement was “a rigorous competitive recruitment process” to find a new CEO.

In November, the position was given to Mr Cavallucci, who until then was a board member of FQ.

The payment to Mr Richardson was detailed in FQ’s financial statement for last year, which noted: “Payments of $40,000 (plus GST) was made to a company associated with Mr Ben Richardson for services rendered over a two-month period.”

Ms Mersiades’s article claimed the CEO salary package for Mr Cavallucci was $320,000, which was $150,000 more than was paid to his predecessor, Richard Griffiths.

Mr Richardson and Mr Cavallucci demanded Ms Mersiades take down the story, which she refused to do.

In June, both men began defamation proceedings against Ms Mersiades in the District Court of Queensland, claiming the article was false and defamatory. Each man sought $400,000 in damages.

A Socceroos player running during a match at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
Retired Socceroo Craig Moore is among those who have shown support for Ms Mersiades.(Reuters: Tony O’Brien)

The Golden Generation put out a statement earlier this month saying: “We urge the Board of Football Queensland to drop this spurious defamation action against Bonita or be forever condemned for failing to put football first.

“Australian football needs passionate football people,” the statement said.

Ms Mersiades is defending the action and has filed a defence arguing that the claims in the article were true, honestly held opinions and in the public’s interest.

She is the former corporate and public affairs manager for Football Federation Australia.

Ms Mersiades was sacked in 2010, 10 months before Australia’s failed bid for the 2022 World Cup, which was subsequently awarded to Qatar.

She wrote a book on her investigations into the bid process, which was published in 2018.

One of her supporters is the former owner of the sporting goods company Skins, Jaimie Fuller, who now describes himself as a campaigner for sports ethics and who said he had known Ms Mersiades for seven years.

“She has an immense reputation, not just in Australia but internationally, as one of the key people involved in bringing down the (former FIFA president) Sepp Blatter regime,” Mr Fuller said.

“For the response to be out of the bullying playbook … on a lady who’s been there and done that and then spat out the other side — is alarming and bizarre, frankly.”

Another supporter, Rabieh Krayem, set up the GoFundMe page that has so far raised $13,700 to help pay for Ms Mersiades’s legal bills.

Mr Krayem is the volunteer president of the Wynnum Wolves Football Club in Brisbane and was the former chairman of the Australian Association of Football Clubs.

“I think what has resonated is that they (the donors) have seen someone like Bonita Mersiades, who for her whole life has volunteered towards the cause of the game,” he said.

The ABC invited Football Queensland to comment on the issues raised in this story, but received no reply.



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Business

Virgin’s rebel bondholders get UBS, Credit Suisse, Deutsche support


A push by two Virgin Australia bondholders to disrupt the bankrupt airline’s sale to Bain Capital has gained the support of investment giants including Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and UBS.

Documents filed on behalf of Broad Peak Investment Advisors and Tor Investments in the NSW Federal Court on Tuesday claim that bondholders, owed a combined $800 million, now back their alternative proposal for the airline.

Bain says the alternative proposal put forward by bondholders is "not credible".

Bain says the alternative proposal put forward by bondholders is “not credible”. Credit:Getty

Virgin owes $2 billion to unsecured bondholders among a total debt pile of $6.8 billion. Broad Peak and Tor, which are Singapore and Hong Kong based investors owed around $300 million, want ownership of Virgin handed to creditors rather than the airline be sold to Bain.

Corrs Chambers Westgarth lawyer Cameron Cheetham, acting for the two investors, told the court that in the past week his firm had received statements of support for the rival proposal from around 60 bondholders including UBS, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Morgans, Mason Stevens, Escala Partners, Mutual Limited, Aberdeen Standard Investments and Yarra Capital Management.



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Claims Daniel Andrews ‘lied’ over ADF support


Opposition’s Michael O’Brien says the Premier has “lied” to parliament after the Federal Defence Minister clarified multiple offers for Australian Defence Force support to help manage hotel quarantine were made despite claims they weren’t.

Daniel Andrews made the statements while facing questions from Parliament‘s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC), which is scrutinising the Victorian Government’s pandemic response.

“I don‘t believe ADF support was on offer,” Mr Andrews told the hearing on Tuesday.

“It‘s been provided in limited circumstances in New South Wales, not to provide security as such but to provide transportation from the airport to hotels.

“I think it is fundamentally incorrect to assert that there was hundreds of ADF staff on offer and somehow someone said no. That‘s not, in my judgment, accurate.”

But Defence Minister Linda Reynolds hit back saying the ADF was “consistently advised” Victoria did not need army assistance with the hotel quarantine system, reported to be responsible for the state’s second virus wave.

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, Ms Reynolds said an application for 850 ADF personnel to assist with quarantining returning travellers was made on June 24 before it was withdrawn the following day.

“ADF officials asked whether Victorian authorities required assistance with its mandatory quarantine system on multiple occasions,” she said.

“No request for quarantine support was subsequently received from Victoria at that time.

“On 12 April 2020, Victorian authorities reaffirmed to ADF officials that all quarantine compliance monitoring operations were within Victorian authorities’ capacity.”

Opposition’s Michael O’Brien said the Premier had been caught out in a lie.

“Premier Daniel Andrews has lied to the Parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, which is set up to ensure accountability and transparency,” he said.

“The Andrews Labor Government has lied to parliament and lied to Victorians. It was the Victorian Labor Government’s decision to snub ADF support for hotel quarantine.

“This dishonest attempt to cover up Labor’s hotel quarantine scandal shows that Daniel Andrews is only interested in protecting his miserable government, not in telling the truth.”

The Premier’s office has been contacted for comment.

anthony.piovesan@news.com.au



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Local News - Victoria

‘Looming’ COVID-19 emergency in disability support homes


“There’s a looming emergency in this sector and we need to be proactive to prevent what’s happened in the aged care sector. We have an obligation to disability support workers, they’ve been the forgotten workforce in this pandemic. Unless we work with them we will have another aged care crisis,” she said.

Professor Kavanagh was the lead researcher in a survey of 357 Australian disability support workers in late May and June which found nearly one in four (23 per cent) had had no coronavirus infection training and of those who had, nearly half (48 per cent) said they wanted more.

“The workforce is scared and they just aren’t resourced to support people in [a COVID-19 infection] situation. They are not a prepared workforce.”

It found that as in aged care, disability support workers cannot physically distance while working. Each worker assisted an average six people each in the week before the survey – but one had work contact with 50.

The national research by the University of Melbourne Disability and Health unit and the UNSW, Canberra, found one third worked in two or more settings and 14 per cent worked in three or more settings. More than four out of five workers (83 per cent) were women.

Two in five (38 per cent) purchased their own masks, and of those who took time off due to illness, less than half were paid. A 2018 report by National Disability Services found Australia had more than 35,000 front line disability workers.

Victorian support worker Kristy said since the day centre she works in closed due to the pandemic she has been working across multiple sites and “every day we get new advice on what to do and that is stressful”.

Workers are unprepared to look after people with disabilities with COVID-19 living in a group home. I feel terribly worried about that.

Professor Anne Kavanagh

“I am worried about protecting the people I work with as many have health problems and if they got COVID they would really be at risk of dying from it,” she said.

“I feel like the government has forgotten about people with disability and support workers. All the attention is on aged care but disability services have the same risks, even worse perhaps because so many of the people have other health problems.”

Professor Kavanagh said it was concerning that so many workers who had had some infection control training “still didn’t feel confident” they knew enough about it and wanted more. “Once you get to using full PPE, which is more than just masks and gloves, it’s a very complicated and difficult thing to do.

“It takes a lot of training; support workers are unprepared to look after people with disabilities with COVID-19 living in a group home. I feel terribly worried about that.”

She said far greater oversight of services and their responses to the pandemic by public health authorities was needed, plus more outbreak preparation and support by medical workers.

“They really need well-trained nursing staff to work alongside workers in these situations. The disability support workforce is really precariously employed and there are all the same risks associated with aged care workers.”

The Disability Support Workers: The Forgotten Workforce in COVID-19 report, which contains 11 recommendations to help disability support workers prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus infection in group homes, will be released today.

Among the recommendations are:

  • Governments update guidelines regarding PPE use among disability support workers, particularly in areas of high community transmission.
  • Governments reach out to workers to provide required training and clear information about whether, when, and how PPE is used, including on-site training with specialised infection control nurses.
  • Workers in high community transmission areas should have access to appropriate PPE (minimum of masks) without cost to them.
  • Disability support workers are made a priority group for testing along with healthcare and aged care workers.
  • Paid pandemic leave is available to all disability support workers who do not have access to paid sick leave and need to self-isolate or quarantine.
  • Governments and providers ensure workers minimise the number of people they support and numbers of settings they work in to reduce transmission risk.
  • Skilled healthcare workers be put on standby for rapid deployment to work with or replace support service workers for clients infected with COVID-19 as has been done in aged care.
  • Options are considered to temporarily rehouse residents in group homes where infections have occurred, to separated infected and non-infected residents.

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Local News - Victoria

Controversial Cape Bridgewater resort proposal sent to Victorian Planning Minister after winning Glenelg Shire council support


Graham Duff, the businessman behind a failed bid to build a five-star hotel in Apollo Bay, is driving the proposal for the eco-resort at Cape Bridgewater.

Mr Duff did not respond to The Age’s request for comment but planning documents show the resort would spread across 10 hectares, with one of its buildings set to include five levels. Some of the buildings would be set into the hillside overlooking the ocean.

Cape Bridgewater

Cape BridgewaterCredit:Jason South

A planning report from December said the project would inject an estimated $60 million into the local economy and provide 245 ongoing jobs in Cape Bridgewater and the surrounding region.

Cape Bridgewater has a permanent population of about 80 people but the population in nearby Portland is far greater.

Save Cape Bridgewater spokesman Patrick O’Brien accused the developer of raising community hopes for jobs in the region without providing sufficient evidence of an economic windfall.

“Portland has experienced similar big promises of employment and economic benefits in the past,” he said.

An eco-resort is being proposed for Cape Bridgewater. The final decision has been referred to the planning minister.

An eco-resort is being proposed for Cape Bridgewater. The final decision has been referred to the planning minister. Credit:Jason South

The group argues the development would spoil the charm of Cape Bridgewater, which is lauded for its stunning beaches and coastal cliffs.

Mr O’Brien said the group was disappointed with the council’s decision, saying it contradicted its own planning advice.

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But he said opponents were now looking forward to a “far more rigorous, objective and open examination of this application”.

The project has won the support of the Portland Tourism Association, with president Denis Carr saying it would deliver major benefits for Cape Bridgewater, where he runs a bed and breakfast.

He said the resort would raise the profile of Cape Bridgewater as a holiday destination.

“Victoria is crying out for something like this,” he said. “There’s a huge market for it.”

A state government spokeswoman said Mr Wynne would consider the proposal “if and when it is received”.

Glenelg Shire mayor Anita Rank said she was among one of the six councillors who endorsed the project, while one voted against it.

She said it would ensure the region was less reliant on Alcoa’s Portland aluminium smelter for jobs.

“We’ve been aware that our region needs to diversify its economy,” Cr Rank said. “We can’t be reliant on one industry.”

Cr Rank said the area needed to improve its tourism offering and lure more Victorians to holiday in places such as Cape Bridgewater.

“We need to position ourselves so that we are a destination,” she said. “What we know coming out of COVID-19 is that domestic tourism is the only type of tourism that people will be able to participate in.”

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Australian News

Commonwealth Bank launches new initiative to provide victims support, resources


One in four Australians have experienced some form of financial abuse and this is expected to worsen as the pandemic continues.

A YouGov survey of more than 10,000 Australians on behalf of the Commonwealth Bank found 26 per cent of adults had suffered some form of monetary abuse while another 12 per cent know someone who has been a victim of it.

Financial Counselling Australia’s chief executive officer Fiona Guthrie said family violence rates were “skyrocketing” during the lockdown and it often resulted in financial problems among couples.

“It harms people so the first step is to recognise it and depending on the situation you need to think about how you are going to get control over your own financial situation,” she said.

“Sometimes people have to set up secret bank accounts.”

The research found of those who had experienced financial abuse the most common behaviours included:

• 61 per cent said the perpetrator used all their partner’s wages for household expenses while spending their own money on themselves.

• 56 per cent said assets were hidden.

• 55 per cent said the perpetrator took complete control of their partner’s finances.

• 55 per cent said the perpetrator refused to contribute to the household expenses.

Ms Guthrie said fewer people had sought free financial help during the pandemic because millions of Australians had increased Jobseeker allowances and were able to access their superannuation early.

“We worry it’s the calm before the storm,” she said.

The Commonwealth Bank has announced it is increasing its support for those suffering financial abuse caused by domestic and family violence, launching its “Next Chapter” program to offer services, support, resources and research.

The bank’s chief executive officer Matt Comyn said financial abuse was a common problem and more help needed to be available.

“It’s a hidden epidemic in our country that has directly affected one in four Australian adults and we want to change that,” he said.

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They are rolling out a new partnership with charitable organisation Good Shepherd to provide free access to people suffering family violence no matter who they bank with.

This includes direct financial assistance, safe banking and referrals to family violence counsellors and experts.

CBA expects to support more than 125,000 customers in vulnerable circumstances over the next five years.

If you are experiencing domestic or family violence call 1800 RESPECT.

sophie.elsworth@news.com.au

@sophieelsworth

IMPACTS OF FINANCIAL ABUSE

• Being left responsible for joint loans following a relationship breakdown.

• Poor credit history.

• Limited opportunity to get employment.

• Lack of funds to cover household expenses.

• Homelessness.

• Prospect of long-term financial hardship.





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Australian News

Former Wallaroo Kirby Sefo uses rugby to inspire and support young women


With participation levels in women’s rugby skyrocketing, a former Wallaroo has created her a program to help young female players thrive on and off the field.

As one of the first women to go professional in Australia’s Rugby 7s competition, Kirby Sefo says her progression in the sport was not without “teething problems”.

“The obvious one was pay parity,” she said.

“It was hard, it was really hard to try and have the same commitment levels [as the men], the same schedules, the same training hours travelling on a fraction of what they were receiving.”

Keen to ease the way for other women, Sefo used time off the field while injured to develop a program called Subbed which would inspire and support girls who had a keen interest in the game.

“It’s a space where we can share our own experiences and stories in sport and, through those stories, we can promote conversations, education and empowerment for young women around four topics of conversation,” Sefo said.

Playing rugby is the ice breaker, but the initiative is about more than just developing future stars of the game.

It is designed to help teenage girls discuss mental health, cultural diversity, sexuality and relationships and overcome social or financial barriers that may prevent them playing sport.

“I don’t really care what sport they play — I just think sport in its entirety is such a positive way to harbour good intentions and it’s a good space for us to be able to educate them.”

Finding support through sport

The six-week pilot program is being pitched at community groups, high schools and even workplaces to help young women like 15-year-old Dynasty Tamihana, from Brisbane.

“It’s really good just knowing that you have that kind of support,” Dynasty said.

“Kirby was pretty much someone that helped me get into rugby and now actually, I love it. I love playing.

“Rugby can help you just get away from everything that’s happening outside the game — just knowing that you can just go to play and get … in a different headspace.”

Three women stand together smiling at a rugby field in Sunnybank.
The program Kirby Sefo (centre) developed is helping young women like Dynasty Tamihana (left) and Selu Tepania-Maama (right).(ABC News: Brittney Kleyn)

Dynasty’s teammate Selu Tepania-Maama said she had also found support through playing sport with other young women.

According to the latest figures from Queensland Rugby League (QRL), 7,459 females registered to play rugby in 2019.

That is up 29 per cent from the code’s goal of 5,763 female registrations in the same year.

On average, the QRL receives an additional 1,000 registrations each season, but it is wary of the impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on that momentum.

The code recently released its Female Strategy for 2020 to 2022 and QRL managing director Rob Moore said it was already planning for the years beyond that.

“There is still a lot of work to be done across all aspects of women’s rugby league,” he said.

“Retention is a big part of this strategy as we look to grow participation right across the game with more players, coaches, officials and volunteers becoming involved for longer periods.”



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Australian News

PM Scott Morrison drafting a plan to offer additional support to virus-hit Victoria


Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has defended Scott Morrison and said the PM spent the weekend drafting a plan for Victoria after he copped backlash for attending Saturday’s football game between his beloved Cronulla Sharks.

The PM’s wife, Jenny, along with his daughters, will holiday during the school break on the outskirts of Sydney this week but Mr Morrison would not be on formal leave. He is expected to return to Canberra later in the week.

“Given the changing critical situation we have in Victoria, I will not be joining them for that full-time,” Mr Morrison said on Friday.

“As a dad, I will take some time, but at the same time I can assure you we will remain absolutely focused on things we need to focus on next week.”

But when he was spotted at the Sharks game as authorities dealt with containing Victoria’s virus-hit suburbs, Mr Morrison was criticised for “frolicking at the footy”.

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On Sunday night, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told Sky News the PM’s appearance at the football adhered to social distancing restrictions and discussed plans to tackle Victoria’s coronavirus rise.

“In terms of around the country it’s appropriate for people to go about new activities and new behaviours, we’re encouraging that,” Mr Hunt said of the Prime Minister’s appearance at the football.

“He was demonstrating exactly what we’re encouraging in an appropriate way.”

It came just hours after Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth issued a stern reminder to anyone becoming complacent about the importance of social distancing, warning the nation’s death toll will rise if people slip back into old habits.

Mr Hunt said he had been working throughout the weekend with the PM to draft a plan for the Commonwealth to offer additional support for Victoria to help the state deal with the surge in infections.

The PM had “worked right through yesterday (Saturday) … on a new level of support for Victoria, over and above every thing that we’ve done”, Mr Hunt said.

“I know because I was working with him. I’ve been working with him throughout today, so this fellow never stops.

“He is one of the reasons, perhaps the fundamental reasons, that we are where we are.

“I have never seen any body work harder in my life and more effectively in protecting a country.”

Mr Hunt did not give detail or outline what support that would be but the government has already deployed more than a thousand Australian Defence Force personnel in Melbourne.

It’s understood that 850 of those will be involved with hotel quarantine, as over 30 cases linked to system have sparked concerns over physical distancing.

Another 200 ADF members will be involved in logistic and medical support.

The ADF members are expected to stay in Victoria until at least the end of July.

At Sunday’s Victoria coronavirus media briefing, where premier Daniel Andrews reported 273 new cases of the virus, he brushed off questions about Mr Morrison’s decisions to take time off, and to attend the football.

The Premier said he had “better things to worry about”.

Victoria recorded 273 new cases of coronavirus and one death on Sunday, as authorities warn police will no longer issue warnings to people found doing the wrong thing.

A man aged in his 70s is the latest fatality during the state’s second wave.

At least 57 Victorians are in hospital with 16 of those in intensive care.

The new cases bring the state’s total to 3799 cases, with almost 1500 of those active.

Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said there were at least 145 cases linked to public housing towers in North Melbourne and Flemington, and a further 22 in Carlton.

It comes as a cluster of eight coronavirus cases has been recorded among staff at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

The hospital says the cluster includes five cases acquired through community transmission and three cases detected through contact tracing.

Mr Andrews again put Victorians on notice, reminding them to only go out when for the purposes that are lawful – shopping for essentials, work or study, care or medical treatment, exercise.

“This is a dangerous time, this is a very challenging time,” Mr Andrews said.

“Victorian police have issued more warnings than fines last time. That won‘t be the case this time.

“If you are out and about doing the wrong thing, then Victoria Police will have no choice but to issue you with a fine.”



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Australian News

Australian Opals lead new RISE UP campaign with Basketball Australia to support Black Lives Matter movement



Basketball Australia (BA) and the women’s national team, the Opals, have launched a campaign to target racism and discrimination.

The RISE UP campaign stands for Respect, Injustice, Standards, Equality, Unity, Peace, with BA and the Opals asking Australians to take action to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people of colour.

Last month the Opals announced they would not train until BA agreed to commit to eliminating racial injustice within the sport.

BA said it was committed to using its platform to be a vehicle for change on racial equality.

Opals star Liz Cambage said it was a proud moment for her and the sport.

“It’s the people around me now who are supporting me and people of colour to help change the world we live in and I’m very proud and emotional when it comes to this,” she said.

Cambage has spoken of her own encounters with racism in Australia, saying she had never felt at home growing up.

BA answered the Opals’ call with the announcement of RISE UP, with Cambage present at the launch in Melbourne on Wednesday.

RISE UP is an acronym for the team’s values: Respect, Injustice, Standards, Equality, Unity, Peace.

Opals captain Jenna O’Hea said her team wanted to help drive change within the community.

“The Australian Opals’ playing group are asking all Australians to RISE UP and stand with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and people of colour to make a change,” she said.

“Racism, discrimination and injustice experienced by black communities is not an American problem, it is a worldwide issue, including here in Australia.

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“It is important that everyone learns and educates themselves on these matters because learning about racism is much easier than living and experiencing it on a daily basis.

“The Australian Opals are asking everyone to embrace our RISE UP team values of Respect, Injustice, Standards, Equality, Unity and Peace as we work together to eradicate racism, discrimination, and injustice both here at home and abroad.”

BA chief executive Jerril Rechter said basketball wanted to help build a more tolerant society.

“The extremely important Black Lives Matter movement has made it abundantly clear that as a global community we must work harder to bring an end to racism, discrimination and injustice,” he said.

“Basketball Australia is committed to using our position and platform to engage, listen, speak out, and be a vehicle for change on racial equality.

“We are extremely proud of the Australian Opals in wanting to come together and lend their voice and influence to not only support Black Lives Matters but drive positive change through their RISE UP campaign.”

The RISE UP initiative will be rolled out by BA over the coming months, starting with a social and digital media campaign.

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Australian News

NASCAR drivers put on show of support for Bubba Wallace as FBI investigates noose in team garage


NASCAR drivers have put on a show of support for fellow racer Bubba Wallace, a day after a noose was found in his team garage.

Drivers and support crews at the Talladega Speedway in Alabama pushed Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver, in his car to the starting line.

While Wallace steered the number 43 to the front of pit road, NASCAR champion Kyle Busch pushed the famous car on one side while close friend Ryan Blaney took the other.

The entire 40-driver field and their crew members followed.

After the car came to a stop, Wallace climbed out, sat on the window ledge and sobbed. Richard Petty, his Hall of Fame team owner, gently placed a hand on Wallace’s shoulder.

Bubba Wallace holds his hand to his eyes, pushing his blue sunglasses up his forehead, while sitting in a NASCAR seat
Wallace is overcome with emotion as he sits in his car prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series race.(AP: John Bazemore)

As federal authorities descended on Talladega Superspeedway on Monday to investigate the discovery of a noose in Wallace’s garage stall, the entire industry rallied around the Cup Series’ driver.

“The news has disturbed us all and of course we want justice and to know who and why,” seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said.

The 82-year-old Petty, at his first race since the coronavirus pandemic began and at Talladega on race day for the first time in more than 10 years, stood side by side with Wallace during the national anthem before Monday’s rain-postponed event.

Everyone stood behind the car while Brad Keselowski held the American flag at the front of the display of solidarity.

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The idea to stand with Wallace started with Johnson, while former series champion Kevin Harvick suggested they all push the car to the front of the grid, Wallace said.

One by one, after the anthem, they hugged Wallace. He then had a long embrace with Petty.

And then he went racing.

If not for a shortage of fuel, Wallace might have had a chance to race for the win.

A late stop for gas led to a 14th-place finish but felt like a win for Wallace.

He went to the fence and slapped hands through the wiring with a group of fans, many wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts as they cheered.

He apologized for not wearing a mandatory mask but didn’t put it on because “I wanted to show whoever it was, you are not going to take away my smile.”

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“This sport is changing,” he said.

“The pre-race deal was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to witness in my life. From all the supporters, from drivers to crew members, everybody here, the bad-ass fan base, thank you guys for coming out. This is truly incredible and I’m glad to be a part of this sport.”

It was Wallace who successfully pushed the stock car series to ban the Confederate flag at its venues less than two weeks ago and he was the target when the noose was found hanging in the Richard Petty Motorsports garage stall on Sunday afternoon at the Alabama track.

A member of Wallace’s crew reported it to NASCAR, and by Monday morning US Attorney Jay Town said his office, the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division were involved.

“Regardless of whether federal charges can be brought, this type of action has no place in our society,” Mr Town said.

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps said security has been stepped up for Wallace — his team was also granted unusual access to its car Monday morning to ensure it had not been tampered with overnight — and the FBI was “currently on site” at the track.

He said the FBI director had told agents in Birmingham to “use all their resources” to find the perpetrator.

“Unequivocally they will be banned from this sport for life,” Phelps said.

“There is no room for this at all. We won’t tolerate it. They won’t be here. I don’t care who they are, they will not be here.”

NASCAR has tried to distance itself from the Confederate flag for years at the risk of alienating a core group of its fan base.

At Wallace’s urging, it went ahead with the ban as the nation grapples with social unrest largely tied to George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police.

Wallace has previously worn a shirt that says “I Can’t Breathe” over his firesuit and sported a Black Lives Matter paint scheme in a race last month in Martinsville, Virginia.

The 26-year-old said after the noose was discovered: “This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in.”

AP



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