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Why the NRL's Indigenous All Stars match matters

Roar Guru
8th February, 2011
22
3321 Reads
Indigenous All Stars player Wendell Sailor breaks throiugh during the Indigenous All Stars v NRL All Stars match

Indigenous All Stars player Wendell Sailor breaks throiugh during the Indigenous All Stars v NRL All Stars match at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Last year I was mildly critical of the NRL’s Indigenous All Stars game and thought it to be just a gimmick. A year is a long time and I am pleasantly surprised that government is finally listening to sportsmen as a result of the match.

Without the involvement of players like Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston this would not have got off the ground. The coach of the All Stars, Laurie Daley, initiated a dinner where Indigenous leaders from business, music and sport were present – Artie Beetson, Evvone Cawley, Christine Anu and Leah Purcell prominent among them.

Lockyer was enthusiastic and said: “This match is something very special. The players on both sides sense it and there is a magic about what it brings out in them on the field and during the week. Playing in the same team as Benji (Marshall) is going to be something to look forward to in itself but there are incredible players across both sides. We really respect what this game is about and for the people of Queensland the chance to get the footy back after such a tough couple of months will make this match even more special.”

Thurston was also similarly animated and enthused: “It’s really hard to explain to people just what this game means to the Indigenous players and to our communities. For the players, the families and the communities there is a sense of pride and a sense of country that goes beyond what you can talk about. It makes you want to do the best you can no matter who is on the other team.”

It is not often that I give credit to sports administrators, but both David Gallop and Sports Minister Arib are to be commended for lifting the ‘Learn. Earn. Legend!’ campaign into the national consciousness.

I have for a long time lamented that our riches are locked up in Indigenous culture on either side of the Nullabor. This game at Skilled Park on Saturday is the best “feel good” story of the year and deserves the highest television ratings that Australians can possibly deliver. This is the working man’s game coming home to where it belongs. It has just the right mix of corporate and compassion. Cricket can learn from this.

Rugby league’s ‘One Community’ and club programs generated from the Harvey Norman Rugby League All Stars in 2010 included:

• Indigenous student mentoring in partnership with ‘Learn. Earn. Legend!’.
• Homework assistance for Indigenous students.
• ‘Eat Well, Play Well, Stay Well’ healthy lifestyle program.
• ‘Rugby League Reads’.
• ‘Dream, Believe, Achieve’ targeting high school students.
• Health programs aimed at closing the life-expectancy gap.
• Reconciliation activities and events.
• PCYC partnerships aimed at keeping youth off the streets.
• Domestic violence prevention.
• Environmental education.

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In 2011 the following programs will be added:

• Broncos Book Club and Yourtutor online tutoring and education program.
• Parramatta Eels’ ‘Learning with League Education Centre’ and ‘Try Reading’ literacy and numeracy initiative.
• Titans’ ‘Beyond Tomorrow’ and 100 per cent Knights Indigenous mentoring and career transition programs in partnership with ‘Learn. Earn. Legend!’.
• ‘Souths Cares’ community classroom at Sydney Corporate Park.
• Sea Eagles’ partnership with country NSW and Far North Queensland schools.
• Wests Tigers Academy of Learning in Western Sydney and ‘Read with Wests Tigers’.

The involvement is right across the rugby league community and it goes to show what Australians are capable of when they are united in a good cause. Lately there has been a force of nature that has reminded us all how fragile and tenuous life can be. It has also reminded us that we must fight for what we hold dear.

It has reminded us that sport may not be a cure for cancer, but it is a powerful force that can offer relief and take our minds of death and taxes.