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Socceroos Need More Indigenous Talent

Map of Indigenous AFL players.

Some of you may have noticed that there’s a little tournament on that the moment known as the FIFA World Cup.

32 national teams have all converged on Russia to pit themselves against each other and determine which will be crowned FIFA World Champions (here’s the tip, it is usually Germany, Brazil, Argentina, France or Italy).

Since 2006, Australia’s national men’s team, the Socceroos, have qualified for the last four World Cups. During that same period the A-League has firmly established itself as our third football code. This continued success has seen the Socceroos become our second national team after the Australian Cricket Team. In short, soccer has come a long way since it was labelled by the lamb sandwich set, as ‘wog ball’.

However, like Australian cricket, soccer has long had an under representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players at the elite levels. (For the purposes of this article I’ll be referring to the men’s game, there will be another piece in time of the next FIFA Women’s World Cup).

Whether it be AFL, League or Union, Aboriginal players over the decades have brought exuberance, flair, guile and courage against great adversary that brings each code a level of excitement that fans can’t get enough of.

In short, it pays for these codes to have a high level of Aboriginal participation at both the grassroots and top end of the respective sports.

Aboriginal players make up over 10 per cent of AFL listed players, which is well above our overall population proportion of 2.8 per cent. A map of where all of current Aboriginal AFL listed players shows the spread of talent across the country. The talent these players displayed will always get them noticed by player list managers, but it takes significant and on-going investment to work with the talent and their families to ensure they have a rewarding career at the highest level of their sport.

Map of Indigenous AFL players.

In the NRL it’s an even better picture, 12 per cent of contracted players are Aboriginal and on top of that, 17 per cent of grassroots players are Aboriginal. Both leagues have Indigenous rounds and for what’s worth, both have Reconciliation Action Plans.

However, this is not the case in soccer. Despite launching an Indigenous Football Strategy in 2012, Aboriginal players make up only 1.2 per cent of A-League team lists. This is despite in 2017, there being 6,541 Indigenous registered soccer players in Australia.

Something is going awry in the journey from grassroots soccer to when the elite reaches of the game.

The Football Federation of Australia (FFA) continues to miss a trick here. 53.1 per cent of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was 24 years or younger at the time of the 2016 census. There are active and rich sporting traditions in communities across Australia. Soccer is a cheap and practical sport for people from all demographically diverse backgrounds to get into, it comparatively safe in relation to AFL and NRL and from a pure career perspective, offers vastly more riches and flexibility than the other two combined.

We know when given the opportunity, Aboriginal sports men and women thrive in a myriad of sports, often on the world stage. Think tennis, athletics, basketball and hockey to name just a few.

On the bright side, there is the John Moriarty Foundation, named after its founder, the first Aboriginal player to be selected to play for Australia. Unfortunately, John never played for the national side after the cancellation of a tour.

The foundation works in remote communities with Aboriginal children between the ages of 2 to 16. In 2016 the Socceroos themselves donated $90,000 in match payments to support the foundation’s work.

Therefore, it is beyond credulity to know that in 2010 the FFA only contributed $10,000 in funding to support Indigenous football programs in 2017. It slashed support to the foundation in half from the previous year. It’s one thing to have kids kicking around a soccer ball at school or at a local junior club, it’s another to guide those same kids though the increasingly cost prohibitive ranks.

It’s clear that the FFA is not serious enough about nourishing Indigenous soccer talent. The other codes do it because, as much as anything else, it is good for business to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander talent on display week-in, week out.

So next time you sit down on the couch with your beany and scarf to watch the Socceroos take on the world’s best, think of how exciting it would be to see players like Buddy Franklin, Johnathon Thurston or Greg Ingliss streaming down field in full attack mode for our national soccer team.

They’re out there, they’re willing and they are more than able. The FFA is depriving the sport and its fans by not doing more to harness our community’s talent. They would do well to rethink their stance.

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