AFL to push for more Indigenous reps in officialdom

Steve Larkin |

AFL players gather with Aunty Pam Pedersen, daughter of Sir Doug Nicholls, at the MCG.
AFL players gather with Aunty Pam Pedersen, daughter of Sir Doug Nicholls, at the MCG.

The AFL is pushing for greater Indigenous representation in official roles but isn’t alarmed at a drop in the number of First Nations players at the elite level, chief executive Andrew Dillon says.

The number of Indigenous players in the AFL has dropped to 71 this season from 87 four years ago.

Dillon believes the reduction is cyclical but wants more done to boost Indigenous representation in areas including club boards, coaching, selection panels and umpiring.

“What’s important is to have the men and women playing at the elite level, we need to have representation at all levels,” Dillon told reporters in Adelaide on Monday.

“We’re continuing to invest in new programs.

“The AFL commission is going to invest now 10 per cent of all revenue into community football, there will be focused programs on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to make sure that we can have representation at all levels.

“We’re reviewing our Next Generation Academies and the mechanisms there so that boys and girls can come and train at clubs from the age of 13 and above.

“And then have the right mechanisms that incentivise the clubs to continue to invest … to get those men and women onto the list.

“When I say representation at all levels, that is coaches, people selecting the team – if we have that, then we’ll get a playing cohort at the elite level that represents what Australia is.”

Tanya Hosch, the AFL’s executive general manager of inclusion and social policy, said the drop in the number of Indigenous players had been noted.

“I am not alarmed,” Hosch told reporters.

“But we’re very aware that it’s something that we can’t allow to gain too much traction and so we’re absolutely working on addressing that.

“Obviously COVID had an impact there.

“But what we know is that this game is important to our (Indigenous) community.

“And to make sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to play at the highest level of the game both in the men’s and the women’s competition is absolutely a priority.”

Hosch and Dillon said the AFL’s annual Sir Doug Nicholls Round, which they launched at Elizabeth in Adelaide’s north on Monday, was vital for the sport and Indigenous communities.

St Kilda players during the 2022 Sir Doug Nicholls Round.
The AFL says recognition of its Sir Doug Nicholls Round is growing each year. (Matt Turner/AAP PHOTOS)

“Our game, quite simply, wouldn’t be as great as it is without the amazing contribution of our First Nations people,” Dillon said.

“Each season, as it should, the celebration and recognition becomes bigger.

“And this year’s theme – spirit, strong, game on – talks to the strength and resilience of First Nations people and their enduring spirit.

“(It’s) a spirit that is so joyous to see in full flight on the footy field but more importantly, a spirit that never breaks.

“Regardless of challenges that continue to arise, my job at the AFL is to continue to support, elevate, celebrate and provide opportunities for First Nations people at all levels of our game.

“And that work will never stop.”