Thursday the 31st of October sees the start of the National Indigenous Football Championships at South Nowra Football Complex in the Shoalhaven, New South Wales.
Following a midweek ALDI Miniroos clinic on the Wednesday, the championships will be in full swing the following morning, with three days of fierce action.
The culmination of the event is a day of finals on Saturday the 2nd of November. Much will be at stake on that day. It will feature highly competitive senior and junior matches, showcasing some of the most promising and skilful indigenous footballers in the country and a demonstration of Elder’s Walking Football.
The championships have grown in stature over the last four years and Football New South Wales has continued to support what is a vital pathway for young indigenous players and a means to address their considerable under-representation at the top levels of Australian football.
The governing body has worked closely with local club Wreck Bay Sharks FC from the inception of the concept and participation numbers have hit an all-time high in 2019. There will be in excess of 500 indigenous players assembled in South Nowra for the event; with 44 clubs involved across both the senior and junior levels.
There will be sixteen male and female teams competing in the senior section of the draw, along with ten male and female teams in the age restricted junior competition (under-14’s).
Whilst an obvious celebration of the round ball game and an opportunity for competitive play in an officially recognised tournament, the event is so much more. The untapped football potential of our indigenous community is considerable.
Proportionally, the number of indigenous men and women who have been granted opportunity and played their way onto the national scene is abhorrently low. Thankfully, with opportunities such as the National Indigenous Football Championships in Nowra, and its continued expansion and growth, such opportunities will be afforded to a far greater number of indigenous footballers in the future.
Travis Dodd, Kasey Wehrman and Jade North flew the flag for Australia’s first peoples at A-League level before their retirements. The baton was then passed to James Brown and David Williams as proud indigenous men playing in Australia’s top flight. Now, they too have departed and young Western Sydney Wanderers defender Tate Russell looms as the most significant indigenous A-League presence.
Just a trickle of talent plies its trade in NPL competitions across the country and far more needs to be done to develop and encourage young indigenous talent. In the women’s game, representation appears far more significant.
Western Sydney goal keeper Jada Mathyssn-Whyman’s future looks bright. Gema Simon, Lydia Williams and Kyah Simon are confirmed stars in the Matildas’ squad, all representing their heritage and nation with class, dignity and grace each and every time they take to the pitch.
The path to self determination and inclusivity has been a long and arduous one for Australia’s indigenous population. Despite the best intentions of many, unlocking the secrets to opportunity, participation and continued involvement in organised sport has proven difficult.
As the Australian Indigenous Football Championships continue to grow year on year, one can only hope that more talent is exposed, recognised and supported in the future. Football is yet to harness a way to ensure all young Indigenous Australians experience the game, nor been able to provide the appropriate pathways for talent to develop as other local sports have.
It is something that the domestic governing bodies must continue to work towards.
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