• Michael Long of the Essendon Bombers AFL Second Preliminary Final against the Carlton Blues (1999) (Jack Atley / Allsport) (Getty Images AsiaPac)
It’s important the AFL keeps pushing the boundaries with the celebration of the league’s Indigenous Round, according to former star player and now AFL staff member Matthew Stokes.
By
Will Davies

Source:
The Marngrook Footy Show
25 May 2017 - 4:52 PM  UPDATED 25 May 2017 - 4:52 PM

While Saturday night’s Dreamtime at the ‘G match is the centrepiece of the AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round, every game this weekend will feature celebrations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

All nine fixtures will acknowledge the great contribution Indigenous Australians have made to Australian Rules Football, showcasing the talent and commitment of the players, but also a little about where those footballers have come from.

Former Geelong and Essendon star Matthew Stokes now works for the AFL as the Diversity Talent Lead and says the Sir Doug Nicholls Round is a vital part of the season.

“The importance of it is showing our respect for the guys who have come before us, especially on the footy field,” Stokes told NITV.

“The players, when you look back at Michael Long and Nicky Winmar, the Krakouer brothers, Sid Jackson – the guys who’ve gone through a time when racism was a way of life.

“And I think people are genuinely socially aware and I think we’ve had incidents in the grandstands but people have put their hand up, (and said) ‘Hey, that’s not acceptable, security guard’.

“So for those guys to go through what they did and endured over many years of the taunt and the words they would’ve got spoken to, it’s also paved the way for us to be able to go out onto the footy field now, or the players these days to be able to go out there and not have to be worried about being vilified.

“And also the way that the AFL can have an impact on society in general.”

Long, Winmar and Phil Krakouer will be among an all-star lineup on The Marngrook Footy Show, live on NITV on Thursday night.

Essendon champion Long was a driving force behind the Dreamtime at the ‘G concept and says when he looks back at the past 13 years of the game, as well as The Long Walk, he has fond emotions.

“It’s one with pride and proud of what this game has done and what it continues to do,” Long said while speaking to the media.

“There’s a lot of players that aren’t here that you’d love them to be a part of the theme and the round, because they’re the ones helping be responsible for where it is today, even though Essendon and Richmond play in the Dreamtime at the G, there’s a lot of players that have contributed to where it is today.”

Long added that he’s proud of the way football has played a big part in tackling racism.

“As the game grows and develops, I think we’ll grow with it as well; the awareness, the social awareness,” he said.

“And I think people are genuinely socially aware and I think we’ve had incidents in the grandstands but people have put their hand up, (and said) ‘Hey, that’s not acceptable, security guard’.

“But this is football, the great game of ours. Let’s protect it for what it is and the love and passion.

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“We’re all passionate about our team, but I think there’s that respect amongst our supporters that has also come a long way.”

For Stokes and the AFL, it’s been important that all 18 clubs celebrate Sir Doug Nicholls Round and build upon the work done by Essendon and Richmond and the Dreamtime at the ‘G.

“I think there’s still a fair bit to do”

“The good thing about it is clubs have their responsibility to do their own little things and activations that they have around the round. So you’ll see a wide range of celebrations in the sense of, from different areas and cultures.

“You’ll see a lot of different cultures and when you talk about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, it’s not just one culture – they’re broken up into hundreds of different community cultural backgrounds and language and cultures itself. So everywhere you go you’ll see something different.”

Stokes says he’s proud of the progress made to tackle and curb racism in Australia and within the AFL, but more can still be done.

“I think there’s still a fair bit to do,” he said.

“I think whenever you get comfortable or happy in what you’ve been able to achieve you get complacent.

“So I think very year, it’s trying to make this round bigger and better and making sure we not only celebrate it in one round, we make sure we celebrate it over the whole year because, to be honest, a lot of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys make the game fun and explosive.

“From an AFL point of view, (we’re focusing on) making sure that we keep pushing the boundaries with this.

“As long as we keep doing that, pushing the boundaries with the celebration and making sure we hold ourselves accountable for making sure that the celebration keeps going, it’ll keep getting bigger and bigger.”

For more news ahead of the AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls Round, tune into The Marngrook Footy Show, live on NITV on Thursday from 7.30pm.

Thursday’s Marngrook Footy Show features an all-star lineup of past and current Indigenous AFL/VFL footballers, with Phil Krakouer, Les Bamblett, Phil Egan, Nicky Winmar, Michael Long, Lindsay Thomas, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Sam Petrevski-Seton a part of the show.