Australian Rules is the country's most popular spectator sport
Australian Rules is the country's most popular spectator sport AFP

Australian Rules chief Gillon McLachlan was left "exasperated" after a spate of racial abuse again blighted the game, as retired Indigenous star Eddie Betts said "enough is enough".

Australia's most popular spectator sport, similar to Ireland's Gaelic football, has a long history of racist incidents targeting Aboriginal and other Indigenous players.

The scourge reared its head again in recent days with online slurs targeting four players across three clubs.

And late last month Western Bulldogs player Jamarra Ugle-Hagan raised his jersey and pointed to his skin in a show of defiance after saying he was abused from the stands.

The sport's integrity unit has launched an investigation into the online abuse and McLachlan pledged to hunt down the culprits, but conceded it was difficult.

"It's pretty hard when often these (social media) accounts are shut down as quickly as they are opened up," he said, adding that the abuse was "a disgrace, it's abhorrent".

"We are taking the action we can. We work hard to track them down but we know they disappear, and I'm exasperated."

The Australian Football League, the game's governing body, began proactively tackling racism in the 1990s.

That included adopting a policy that made it an offence for players or officials to insult someone because of their race, religion, ethnicity, colour, nationality or background.

But problems persist. Betts, one of Australia's highest-profile Indigenous athletes, said he was not surprised by the latest scandal because "it happens all the time".

"Enough's enough. When are we going to see a stance?" he said on Fox Sports.

Ugle-Hagan's defiant gesture in a game against St Kilda mirrored one of the most powerful images associated with racism in Australian sport.

In 1993, Indigenous St Kilda player Nicky Winmar responded to abuse from Collingwood supporters by lifting his shirt while facing the crowd and pointing to his skin.

Betts, who once had a banana thrown at him by a spectator and was depicted as a monkey by trolls on Twitter, said: "They don't like Aboriginal people standing up for what they believe in and trying to stamp out racism.

"It feels like they want to put us back down in our boxes where they think we belong," he added.

"It is disappointing to see. We just have to continue to keep educating. We're seeing change, but it's always going to happen."

A damning independent report in 2021 detailed systemic problems at one of the largest Australian Rules clubs, Collingwood, which led to the resignation of its president Eddie McGuire.

The report, which described the club's culture as more toxic and harmful than any other in the Australian Football League, came after former player Heritier Lumumba complained of facing racism while there.