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Indigenous footballers: AFL and clubs can do better

Support for Indigenous footballers is at best patchy and can be vastly improved with a few simple measures, a Victoria University researcher says.

Psychology doctoral graduate Emma Campbell says the AFL and many clubs made big advances in tackling racism and extending support for Aboriginal and Islander footballers during the 1990s, but many gaps in support services remain.

Dr Campbell was awarded her doctorate in October for her thesis Relocation Stories: Experiences of Indigenous Footballers in the AFL.

Her research, which included in-depth interviews with 10 Indigenous AFL players and many club and league staff, found that the difficulties faced by Indigenous footballers relocating to play first-division football were widespread. They included homesickness, racism, isolation and culture shock.

"A lot of good work was done during the 1990s following the famous gesture made by St Kilda's Nicky Winmar during play in 1993," Dr Campbell said. "However, support has stagnated and there is a need to address modern forms of racism which turn a blind eye to individual needs and continue to perpetuate outmoded and derogatory stereotypes."

In her thesis Dr Campbell made the following recommendations for clubs and the AFL to improve support for Indigenous players:

  • Develop an understanding of the meaning of "home" for Indigenous players – including country, family and spiritual connectedness. This would show respect for cultural difference and support for individual circumstances.
  • Provide an approachable and receptive environment, open to cultural difference. By providing mentors, support with accommodation and an employment program for Indigenous coaching, support and administrative staff and not just players, clubs could overcome many of the initial problems faced by Indigenous players upon relocation.
  • Develop a more consistent approach to life paths post-football. Many Indigenous players drop off the radar at the conclusion of their playing career because of inadequate planning for the transition into non-playing roles.
  • The AFL should continue to develop its Indigenous program run in association with groups such as the AFL Foundation and the West Australian-based Clontarf Foundation.

Dr Campbell is available for interview.  She works as a psychologist/counsellor in Dubai – interviewers please note the seven-hour time difference.

Media contact: Jim Buckell, A/Senior Media Officer

Marketing and Communications Department, Victoria University

Ph: (03) 9919 4243; mobile: 0400 465 459; email: jim.buckell@vu.edu.au

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