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Breaking Barriers: The Journey of Indigenous Athletes in Sports

Josh Addo-Carr, renowned NRL player and grandson of national boxing champion Wally, and George Rose, former NRL star and CEO of No Limit, both hail from families with rich sporting heritage. However, their grandparents experienced a vastly different reality. Wally and George's grandparents faced severe restrictions on their mobility, requiring permission even for mundane tasks like shopping. These limitations were a stark reminder of the systemic racism prevalent in society just a few generations ago. The struggles endured by their ancestors fuel their determination to excel and inspire future generations.

Despite the challenges they face off the field, indigenous players in the NRL and AFL have showcased their exceptional talent and left an indelible mark on their respective sports. Their remarkable skills and highlight-reel moments have enthralled fans for decades. Yet, the absence of indigenous head coaches or club bosses is a glaring disparity that cannot be overlooked. Indigenous players, such as Aldo-Carr, have expressed their deep respect for their grandparents' resilience, which motivates them to push themselves to be the best they can be.

"The strongest stories I've heard is from my grandparents and what they had to go through, that pushes me to be the very best I can be because of what they were forced to overcome".

said Bulldogs winger Aldo-Carr

George Rose, having transitioned from his successful NRL career to become a prominent executive in the boxing industry, understands the lack of opportunities in his beloved sport. Rose acknowledges that the pathways to coaching and leadership roles are not readily available for indigenous players. The black space, as Rose puts it, often lacks realistic opportunities for progression. However, he firmly believes that indigenous athletes have demonstrated their worth on the field when given the chance to shine.

Professor Ruth Jeanes, an expert in inclusive education at Monash University, highlights several barriers that impede the advancement of indigenous coaches and leaders. Inherent and systemic racism continue to cast doubt on the capabilities of indigenous players, questioning their potential as leaders who can drive the game forward. Moreover, the burden of educating others about cultural safety and dismantling barriers falls disproportionately on the shoulders of indigenous leaders, leading to high levels of burnout.

"There's a few barriers, there's still issues with inherent racism, systemic racism around the capacity and capabilities of indigenous players, and the belief that they're capable players, but are they capable of leadership? Are they capable of driving the game forward?" said Professor Ruth Jeanes,

To rectify the underrepresentation of indigenous coaches and leaders, a fundamental shift is needed within the sporting landscape. Professor Jeanes emphasizes the importance of addressing power dynamics and privileged positions to effect real change. Indigenous coaches require allies and mentors who can provide support and guidance throughout their journey. The establishment of systems that assist coaches in managing scrutiny and maintaining job security is crucial. Additionally, fostering cultural safety and promoting leadership as viable options for indigenous players will create a more inclusive and supportive environment.

While progress has been made, much remains to be done. NRL clubs have indigenous representation within their coaching staff, but there is still room for improvement. NRL initiatives that focus on youth leadership aim to nurture future candidates for boardroom roles. Laurie Daley, a trailblazer as a Wiradjuri man coaching the NSW State of Origin team, advocates for NRL funding to support indigenous employees at each club. Creating pathways, such as mandating indigenous coaching roles within clubs, provides invaluable opportunities for learning and growth.

Club support is vital for the success of indigenous coaching initiatives. Merely creating a mandated role without meaningful involvement in decision-making and contributing to club improvements is insufficient. Indigenous coaches need the opportunity to be actively engaged in shaping the team's future, both on and off the field. By providing support, guidance, and love, clubs and corporations can harness the talent and intelligence of indigenous leaders and create an environment where they can flourish.

Read the full article here.

Photo Courtesy Sporting News

Courtesy The Australian

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