THE REVIVAL of an Indigenous All-Stars Game, more investment in post-career pathways for retired footballers, and full-time Indigenous player development managers are among several recommendations from the League's Indigenous and multicultural players.
Continued work to address structural racism and improve cultural safety across the AFL, improved consistency in Next Generation Academy programs, and better consultation and direct communication with players were also among the priorities that emerged from the 2022 Indigenous and Multicultural Players Summit.
More than 80 male and female players joined senior AFL and club officials at the summit held in Geelong in late 2022. It was the first event of its kind since early 2019, due to the interruption of COVID-19 across 2020 and 2021.
It was the first time that Indigenous and multicultural players from both the AFL and AFLW competitions had come together to discuss the issues that impacted them.
AFL CEO Andrew Dillon, then in the role of football operations boss, joined AFL Players Association CEO Paul Marsh at the three-day camp, along with senior AFL coaches, club presidents and CEOs.
Issues raised by Indigenous and culturally diverse players included: transitioning in and out of the game, living away from home and homesickness, social and emotional wellbeing, structural racism and matters of identity and belonging.
There was a strong desire from players for an All-Stars game to return for the first time in since 2015, with an Indigenous v Multicultural clash.
Indigenous All-Stars teams faced off against AFL sides every two years from 2003-2015 during the pre-season as part of the biennial Indigenous Players Summit.
In December 2022, Dillon backed the return of the exhibition game but a date is yet to be locked in. Strong support for the event remains across the industry.
Players have called for both the AFL and AFLPA to commit to the return of the showcase game to help promote the code of culturally diverse communities.
The Next Generation Academies were also a focus, with players highlighting the need for improved transitions from the development program into the AFL squad.
The Academy programs and the Indigenous talent pipeline are also being looked at as part of the AFL's competitive balance review, led by the League's new executive general manager of football, Laura Kane.
AFL national diversity talent manager Pauly Vandenbergh said the summit had been a great success.
"It was fantastic to be able to bring together for the first time both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, along with multicultural players from the both the AFL and AFLW," he said.
"The summit offers an important platform for both the AFL and AFLPA to come together with players to discuss the issues that impact Indigenous and multicultural players and identify ways to work more collaboratively together and continue to drive initiatives across the industry.
"It was great to see strong representation from all club leadership teams, including Club presidents, CEOs, General Managers, Senior AFL and AFLW coaches and the AFL’s newly created Indigenous Player Development Managers (IPDMs), signalling the strong commitment of the clubs to work with the AFL and AFLPA on issues that affect Indigenous and multicultural players.
"It also provided a mechanism for players to deliver feedback to the AFL and AFLPA, helping us build more robust relationships and support the needs of AFL and AFLW Indigenous and multicultural players in the future."
2022 Indigenous and Multicultural Player Summit recommendations
- Greater understanding and investment into structural racism, cultural safety, training, awareness and education
- Greater understanding of the impacts of ‘cultural load’ for both players and IPDMs
- Investment in full time employment and professional development of IPDMs
- Implementing Multicultural Player Development mangers at club level needs consideration
- Next Generation Academy programs need greater consistency, particularly around community engagement and transition into the AFL
- Multicultural Ambassador programs needs better coordination and communication.
- More Industry planning and programs for past player pathways – coaching, umpiring, player agents, administration, commentary
- Develop industry-wide approach for responding to historical racism
- All club Reconciliation Action Plan committees need to include Aboriginal and Multicultural players on them
- AFL and AFLPA need to give a clear commitment to the continuation of All-Stars Summit and reintroduction of the All-Stars game to help raise awareness and promote the code for culturally diverse communities.
- Improved consultation with Players and Clubs (working group consisting of AFL, AFLPA, Senior Players and Club staff) and improved direct communication with players (more notice of date; direct invitations rather than through clubs; agenda provided to players in advance to drive interest; clear instructions as to where players need to be and when)