The video of a controversial segment in which ‘The Project’ presenters Waleed Aly and Peter Helliar dismissed Heritier Lumumba’s account of racism at Collingwood Football Club is no longer accessible on the show’s social media accounts since at least Thursday evening.
‘The Project’, Aly and Helliar have come under mounting pressure to acknowledge the 2017 interview with Lumumba after a leaked report, prompted by the now-retired player’s account of a “culture of racist jokes” at the Magpies club, found evidence of “systemic racism.”
The segment, which has been widely shared on social media since the independent report’s release on Monday, has been condemned for “discrediting” and “gaslighting” Lumumba.
Melbourne-based comic Aamer Rahman, who was in the room when the ‘Project’ interview took place, told HuffPost Australia that the show’s failure to acknowledge its 2017 coverage was “hypocritical and dishonest”. Despite calls for the program to issue an apology and multiple approaches from the media, including HuffPost Australia, for comment, ‘The Project’ and Channel 10 have largely remained silent.
Helliar, who has worked with Collingwood Football Club as its ‘Strauchanie’ character, questioned Lumumba’s claims in the 2017 program and said it sounded like the ex-defender was “smearing an entire club.”
“We can’t find anyone who would speak to us who knew of that nickname over a playing career of 10 years,” Helliar said, referring to Lumumba’s allegation that other players called him racist nicknames.
Helliar’s comments came after ‘The Project’ had aired an interview between Aly and Lumumba in which the presenter subjected the 199-game Magpie veteran to a “gruelling” 90-minute “circular cross-examination”, according to Rahman. Aly pushed Lumumba on why other players hadn’t admitted to calling him “slave” and “chimp”.
Aly was forced to correct himself and Helliar, admitting right after the interview ran that player Andrew Krakouer had confirmed the “chimp” nickname, but then he dismissed Krakouer as a “rare person”.
On Monday, Helliar tweeted an apology to Lumumba, saying: “I should have believed you. I will do better”. Rahman responded that he needs to make a full on-air apology.
Lumumba also took aim at ‘The Project’, saying that he had rejected an invitation to appear on the show in the wake of Monday’s release of the report finding that racism had resulted in “profound and enduring harm to First Nations and African players” at Collingwood.
A number of media outlets ― including HuffPost, news.com.au, Pedestrian and Yahoo Sports ― had embedded a Twitter video of the ‘Project’ segment from the show’s official verified account. However, on Thursday evening the video and tweet were no longer accessible.
Screengrabs from Google showed cached versions of the video from the Twitter and Facebook accounts of ‘The Project’. Both URLs now return errors, however, while readers of news publishers that had embedded the video were no longer able to access it.
HuffPost Australia has reached out to Channel 10 for comment.