Indigenous football community taking ownership and leading the way

The most important part of the inaugural National Indigenous Football Championships is that it was organic, real, came from the community itself and is, unlike many programs past, sustainable.

National Indigenous Football Championships

Source: Twitter

Perhaps that is what it took all along. Not for the governing body to impose another short term, fabricated venture however well intentioned, but for our indigenous football community to take ownership and lead the way.

Friday and Saturday last week was, by this measure, perfect.

A community of connected, passionate and visionary indigenous Australians forming a tournament with 24 teams from all around the country, including the top end, displaying tremendous competitive spirit allied with the spirit of friendship and togetherness, and bringing to life a long discussed but never before captured conception of the indigenous game.

Congratulations to organisers Lawrence Gilbert and Bernie McLeod, Jamie Warren from Johnny’s Foundation, the Wreck Bay Sharks football club from Nowra and everyone who contributed to a groundbreaking year one. It was a true pleasure to bear witness.

The skill level was high, surprising actually because many male and female players were from NPL clubs nationally, and for its first iteration, the tournament already gave an insight into what it can become.

In three, four, five years’ time, the National Indigenous Championships will be an enormous coming together of communities nationally, in a week of celebrating culture, educating the rest of us in football about the beauty in our midst, and a representation of amazing talent.

The tendency is always to talk about the talent, but this is about far more.

Other than being a very strong competition, last week was an opportunity to formulate this discussion in a different way and, coming after the groundbreaking, first Indigenous Football Week, we can say that step by step we are finding our way.

Programs like John Moriarty Football are doing great work up north and providing opportunities in remote communities and, now, the rest of the country is coming together to play, in their own manner and to celebrate their love of the game.

Two major pillars of indigenous football have now taken shape, but the question is, where to from here?

As stated earlier, the difference is that the aforementioned programs or projects have come from an indigenous legend, on the one hand, and the indigenous community, on the other.

What is required of the rest of us is support, and every helping hand we can provide.

Make no mistake, the Moriarty program is changing lives and providing pathways, and the National champs will become an annual, televised event (NITV are covering this event over the next few weeks). From small things grows greatness.

Twenty four teams in 2016. Double, triple, quadruple in years to come. More age groups, higher standards, more cultural demonstrations for the masses of the ignorant, me among them, and something very special, and real is afoot.

Do what you can to assist, and you’re doing something not just for football, but for the country itself for I believe that football will make a massive contribution to bridging the current divide between the oldest living culture on earth and those of us who inhabit their land.

In particular, the Socceroos and Matildas will be right at the forefront of showing pride to the world in who we really are as a nation.

Our indigenous participation numbers are shamefully low and most programs historically are failures but the willingness is there, the passion to make something happen, and now we have at least three powerful vehicles to do so.

The future looks a whole lot brighter and, gradually, the past is being overcome rather than repeated.

Before I go, a quick mention to all the celebrities and former players who made the trip to Nowra to be involved. It shows the character of Mile Sterjovski, Patrick Zwaansvijk, Dave Basheer, Anthony Mundine, actor Luke Carroll, Professor John Maynard, Nathan Blacklock and many others to give their time for their community, and our game.

Sorry, their game.

It always was, we just borrowed it for a while.

(William Blandowski writes in his 1857 book 'Australia – William Blandowski’s Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia’: "The ball is made out of typha roots - it is not thrown or hit with a bat but it is kicked up in the air with the foot. Aim of the game: never let the ball touch the ground.")

At long last, they’re taking ownership again. 

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4 min read
Published 6 November 2016 at 3:47pm
By Craig Foster