Is football doing enough for Indigenous Australia?

By March 24, 2016updates

The storm surrounding Indigenous rights sparked by on-field controversy in a different sport has raised some timely questions for football regarding our own indigenous commitment, our ‘football dreaming’.

Especially so soon after the incredible performances in Canada by Kyah Simon and the amazing Lydia Williams for the Matildas at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

We should ask what are we doing to further indigenous outcomes through our sport? What are we doing to accelerate these opportunities?

What are we planning this coming season to make our own contribution? Are our clubs, our league, our participation base being engaged on an issue that affects not just our game, but our country and in which football can do so much good?

Where, for instance, is our Indigenous round?

Some years ago, there was an Indigenous strategy launched that aimed to fill at least 10 per cent of the A-League with Indigenous stars within a certain timeframe, underpinned by an annual festival to bring the best talent together, if memory serves me correctly. Like many grand statements, it withered under the pressure of so many hungry mouths to feed within the game.

The strategy was only ever predicated on a certain type of funding rather than an underlying commitment or passion to make a difference for indigenous football and, when competitive pressures become too great, the initiative fades.

I well remember arguing the case for an over-arching, long-term aim to change the living conditions of Indigenous Australians through the use of football programs, rather than merely an annual festival for a tiny number of players that had access to extremely limited programs in existence.

Instead of starting with the end in mind and the philosophical will to implement intergenerational improvement, a short-term funding source was identified, a festival created to utilise this funding, and a box ticked that was only ever going to make a limited impact.

There was great passion in the room for the cause with greats like John Moriarty, Harry

Williams, Andy Harper and others present, but the group was never allowed to explore what could be. Only what could be fit in at that time, under that funding stream.

So where does that leave us today?

Well, I heartily congratulate FFA on its Whole of Football Plan launched in May this year. It addresses many areas of neglect and sets out a vision to become the number one sport in the country. Hear, hear.

If you haven’t read it I reccommend you do so.

Facilities, administration, a unified federation model, schools, academies, club memberships, a conversion target for participants to A-League support, membership targets and an Australian style of play are all worthy and important goals.

The document is an outstanding vision statement predicated on immense consultation and research. Very well done.

But little mention of indigenous football except a need to support associations and clubs to ‘cater’ for Indigenous players.

Nothing can cater for the tens of thousands of kids in remote communities without satisfactory education, nutrition and an opportunity to learn the game. By the time they hit the level of clubs and associations, it is too late.

There remain sporadic contributions, all worthy of course, such as work by Adelaide United in Alice Springs and various academies and schools around the country, but not yet a fully coordinated, centrally-funded plan to put football’s singular power to work to ‘close the gap’.

Thank god for John Moriarty and co.

After five years of piloting the program in several communities in the Gulf of Carpentaria, over sixty kids have represented their region or state. Seven girls represented Northern Territory recently in Coffs Harbour in the Under 13s and 15s.

The kids train virtually every day and learn behavioural and self management lessons that will positively change their lives. I can’t stress enough how important football is for the girls in remote communities. Whereas other games are ill-suited and the girls are left out, football is a lifeline.

One player, a stunningly talented girl named Shadeene Evans, is set to enter the FFA elite pathway very soon. She’s a gun. But more than this, she’s a leader in her community and will be able to positively influence the entire community when she returns.

Shadeene and others will start a new cycle that will see more kids create a powerful future.

Football has a responsibility to speak up and make a difference to the most important social issue of our time.

But are we truly doing it?

This article appears courtesy of SBS Online

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