diversity, inclusiveness and aussie rules

diversity, inclusiveness and aussie rules

April 26, 2011  |  aborigines, knowledge, life, main blog, motivation

Australian Football has always brought people together from different walks of life. If you’ve supported, or played for an Aussie Rules team, you’ll understand. I once played in a team with truckies, scientists, farmers, wine makers and policemen. There was a salesman, a preacher and a horse trainer as well. We were the Rutherglen Redlegs, where backgrounds and occupation counted for nothing, where there was a strong sense of belonging, acceptance and inclusiveness. In our team however, there was little cultural or ethnic diversity. Thirty five years later, Australian football is now a game open to any person, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexuality. The evolution is not accidental.

For indigenous people, AFL has been a conduit to better life opportunities for the gifted, a source of fun for others and a vehicle for greater understanding and tolerance by Australians generally. Understanding the passion that indigenous kids have for footy, some schools demand attendance into senior years as a pre-requisite for their participation. While there is strong evidence that aboriginal people were the pioneers of Aussie Rules, for many years it was a white man’s game. Through the leadership of people like Kevin Sheedy, Maurice Rioli, Michael Long, and more recently Andrew McLeod, Michael O’Loughlin and Adam Goodes, that has changed. We now have 10% of senior AFL lists made up of indigenous people, although they make up less than 2% of the total population.

What about ethnic diversity? While AFL hasn’t been the game of choice for many immigrants brought up on soccer, for example, there have been many men from 47 different countries (going back no more than one generation) who have played Aussie Rules at the highest level. Andrew Embley from Burma, Peter Daicos from Macedonia, David Wojinski from Poland and Alex Jesaulenko from Austria, are just some examples.

In what can sometimes be a thankless role, Andrew Demetriou is the CEO of the AFL. He is a former North Melbourne player with Cyprian roots and takes a progressive stance on diversity. His address at a forum organised by the Diversity Council of Australia last year is excellent, including this extract…

“…and, most importantly, we want to be respectful….to embrace diversity and inclusion….to understand and value the differences in every person. I like to think of Australian football as a game for anyone and everyone….a game which is inclusive, accessible and affordable…a game that does not discriminate.  That’s why we must continue to engage with indigenous and multicultural communities to provide pathways for them to participate in our game. Australian football has extraordinary power. Its greatest power is to bring people – regardless of their background or belief – together”

Good on you Andrew! The AFL is walking the talk with its multicultural program and indigenous programs (including ambassadors for life, indigenous academies and employment strategy and AFL kick start programs).

The stimulus for this blog was listening to the old master himself giving an address to the Royal Sydney Show Community lunch last week. Kevin Sheedy, apart from stressing that Greater Western Sydney will be successful on the field, said “it’s not all about footy…. it’s about the game of life”. He went on to tell the story of a Muslim boy who was given a trial game recently and had 150 mates turn up to watch him. He also shared the fact that there are people from 170 countries in his catchment area (33% of people in western Sydney were not born in Australia) and explained how he intends to embrace as many of them as he can. Kevin is a true pioneer in this area, just as he’s been in fostering indigenous inclusion at all levels of our game.

David Wright-Neville, a consultant to ASIO on terrorism, recently spoke at a lunch In Melbourne about managing a junior team. His team comprised Vietnamese Australians, Lebanese Australians and boys from many other ethnic and cultural backgrounds, including recently arrived Sudanese refugees. One of the boy’s grandfathers, the Imam of a large mosque in Melbourne, said that Australia’s capacity to embrace immigrants went a long way to diminishing feelings of ostracism and disenfranchisement – conditions we understand can be precursors to cells of rebellion. He emphasised the vital role that Australian Rules plays in supporting true multiculturalism and a sense of belonging.

These stories highlight some great Australian values – inclusiveness, mateship, originality, groundedness and optimism. Interestingly, these were the some of the values that we defined at the Australian Tourist Commission for Brand Australia in 2004 – values which still underpin the brand story and promotion of our country overseas. It’s what I would like to see Australia really become. It seems that Andrew Demetriou and the AFL do as well…perhaps more readily than some other Australian communities and individuals. AFL is, and will continue to be, a circuit breaker in fighting prejudice – by including all people in the love of our national game.



3 Comments


  1. Great summary–Thought and memory provoking too. The black and white photo could not hide the mop of red hair in the back row! I played for a cosmopolitan team where one team member locked the coach in the umpires’ room in the grandstand after training and then lit a fire at the door. Maurice was a wild one. Coach Tuppence Kersley celebrated his 100th birthday recently–so we did extinguish the fire! Graham S

    • You should be writing more Graham! Some wild lads at Rutherglen as well – things that shouldn’[t grace this blog. Footy has its downsides but it also plays a wonderful role in the fabric of our society. Love it!!

  2. Ken ..I loved reading your insightful and thoughtful words!
    We’ve come a long way, thankfully.

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