When Adam Goodes was called an “ape” by a young Collingwood fan there was an outpouring of public support for the Sydney Swans star.
But Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs fears similar racial abuse against athletes could flourish if planned changes are made to the Racial Discrimination Act.
That’s because it would be highly unlikely to physically intimidate someone like Goodes and other Aboriginal AFL players or incite others to hate them on racial grounds.
Professor Triggs also fears a hijab-wearing Muslim woman in a local park with her children could be lawfully abused about her religion.
The Abbott government argues section 18C of the Act should be repealed because it unreasonably restricts freedom of speech.
The repeal would effectively remove the prohibition on offending, insulting or humiliating individuals or groups because of their race or ethnicity.
The section will be replaced by new protections against racial vilification and intimidation.
Prof Triggs on Wednesday revealed the commission receives only two or three complaints a year about breaches of the right to freedom of speech.
In comparison, last year there was a 59 per cent spike in racial discrimination complaints.
“Freedom of speech is not at risk for most Australians,” Prof Triggs told the National Press Club.
Tension between the right of freedom of expression and the right not to be subject to racial discrimination had sparked the “freedom wars”.
“Prioritising freedoms one against another is a false and fruitless exercise.”