The role of sport in social change has been on our minds the past few days. In May this year, the AFL was proud and public in their backing of a First Nations Voice to parliament, but this weekend it appears they will remain silent on their stance at the game of games, the AFL grand final.
With over 2 million expected viewers, this event would have drawn attention to the 'Yes' campaign that they have stated they support. We are a fortnight from voting day and this could have been a golden moment for the AFL to spark important conversations in thousands of households and to create positive momentum around the referendum on Oct 14.
This is a missed opportunity to say the least. It's deeply disappointing that the AFL is not showing up and standing in solidarity with First Nations peoples, at a time we need them most.
A written statement supporting the Voice falls short if it is not paired with bold and courageous visible action to create real change.
The AFL is privileged to have a long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership in the game, from the grassroots in every state and territory, through to the AFL and AFLW competitions.
It is a privilege to choose when and how to show up in support of First Nations justice, one that is not afforded to First Nations people. Right now, the AFL is exercising their own privilege in deciding to not speak up and use their platform to encourage wider Australia to ‘walk with us’ for a better future.
It’s easy, and again a privilege, to say that politics should stay out of sport.
However, sport does not exist in isolation of the society it is played in and is not immune to the opportunities and challenges at hand. We all know that sport is one of the most powerful and effective platforms to influence change, whether that be social, political, or moral. There are so many examples of this in sports history where clubs and athletes have made a stand to advocate on particular issues.
We should focus on harnessing the political and social power of sport for the greater good.
We have seen this power in action first hand during the Free The Flag campaign when every single AFL team and player warmed up in a Free The Flag tee in the 2021 Indigenous round - despite the AFL once again not supporting the campaign. This action from the players resulted in immense public pressure that was impossible for politicians, the public and the media to ignore. The following week the government announced a Senate Inquiry into the Aboriginal Flag copyright issue.
Whilst we are disappointed that the AFL makes excuses to not get on board in a real way, we remain hopeful that Collingwood Football and Brisbane Lions, their players and fans will act on their values and in line with their club’s public positions of support for a First Nations Voice.
Like we saw in the Free The Flag campaign, player led action and support for First Nations justice speaks volumes and creates change.
Wouldn’t it be incredible to be cheering on your footy team on Saturday and for them to #WriteYes on their hand while they battle it out for a premiership cup?
There’s still time and there’s still hope. But let’s not forget that with a deadline of Oct 14, every conversation counts and every action matters.
Let’s kick goals and make history.
Grab that sharpie. #WriteYes