THE AFL would like to acknowledge 2021 NAIDOC Week which is celebrated across Australia from July 4 – 11.

Held annually, NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The 2021 NAIDOC Week theme is 'Heal Country!', which calls for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage.

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Season 2021 has witnessed a number of memorable ground-breaking moments and achievements by members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community within the AFL.

In Round 16, Shaun Burgoyne became the first Aboriginal player to play 400 VFL/AFL games, an incredible achievement.

2021 marked the fifteenth occasion the AFL has celebrated the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and their contribution to Australian football in the annual Sir Doug Nicholls Round, and the sixth year the dedicated round has been named in honour of Fitzroy legend and former Governor of South Australia, Sir Doug Nicholls.

For the first time, the annual Dreamtime match between Richmond and Essendon was played on Wadjuk Noongar land in Perth with more than 55,000 packing Optus Stadium for the pulsating contest won by the Tigers. Prior to the game, thousands came together for the annual 'Long Walk' from the WACA to Optus Stadium, an initiative inspired by Bombers legend Michael Long.

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2021 also saw the inaugural AFLW Indigenous Round, which was celebrated in Round Five of the NAB AFL Women’s Competition.

Not only have AFL and AFLW teams worn beautiful guernseys designed by Indigenous artists to honour Sir Doug Nicholls Round and AFLW Indigenous Round, but recognition of Indigenous culture has now spread to leagues and clubs right across the country, with many holding themed rounds and Indigenous guernseys worn by community footballers.

In 2021 the AFL reaffirmed its commitment to recognising, welcoming, understanding and respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their communities by launching its Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). The Innovate RAP has been formally endorsed by Reconciliation Australia and aims to build upon the AFL’s commitment to making its contribution to addressing racism and inequality across society and improving relationships and engagement with and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Earlier this year, in recognition of National Reconciliation Week, the AFL Players’ Association launched its updated Indigenous Map for 2021. The map highlights the cultural diversity of the AFL and AFLW’s Indigenous players with the league’s 103 male and female Indigenous players represented across 77 language groups. It is a vital education resource for people to understand the journeys of Indigenous AFL and AFLW players.

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General Manager for Inclusion & Social Policy, Tanya Hosch said NAIDOC Week was a great opportunity for all Australians to reflect on the contribution achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the football community.

“Through NAIDOC Week, the AFL's Sir Doug Nicholls Round and the AFLW’s Indigenous Round, the code celebrates the impact of Aboriginal and / or Torres Strait Islanders and to continue the conversation about the game’s history and the way forward.

“Australian football is loved and enjoyed by many people and we must never underestimate the impact football has on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country.

“We know the platform of sport has the power to set the agenda – it can be an incredible force for good in our society and for our nation," Hosch said.

The AFL is proud to continue to work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to help better support and acknowledge their significant contribution to our great game, both on and off the field.

NAIDOC Week celebrations are being held from 4-11 July 2021. More information on NAIDOC Week is available at: https://www.naidoc.org.au/.