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Increasing diversity in the AFL is something to celebrate

Women's AFL will have an official league as of 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)
Expert
6th April, 2016
122
1822 Reads

I have such fond memories of being a child – watching AFL with my family, cheering on the Western Bulldogs for as long as I can remember! As I reflect nostalgically over the years, I am pleased to see that the sport I love has embraced diversity.

With more and more nationalities on the field each season, I am proud to see diversity in AFL being cherished, with more investment planned for the future.

The cultural melting pot that is Australia is represented on an AFL field. And I am pleased that we won’t stop there – the AFL not only aspires to see an unbiased game that is a true reflection of our nation in terms of ethnicity, but also in the gender space.

I am thrilled to see us broaden our inclusion to the women’s league – athleticism and skills are impartial to culture and gender and it is time to see the women’s game grow.

The AFL’s plan to roll out national club academies will provide a pathway for the best Indigenous and multicultural talent – both men and women.

On the field, dedicated coaching programs will nurture the best talent, increasing the diversity representation within the code. Off the field, strong links with communities will promote social inclusion and cultural understanding, helping youths to integrate with wider society, through a sport that is at its a core, an Australian game.

Indigenous people represent 3 per cent of the Australian population, with 9 per cent representation on AFL lists. AFL statistics show 90,000 Indigenous people are involved with AFL programs across the country every weekend.

The progressive and fair approach of AFL dates back over a hundred years, with the first player of Aboriginal descent, Fitzroy’s Joe Johnson setting foot on a professional AFL field and paving the way for Indigenous players.

Since then we have seen a number of successful Indigenous players make the Boomerang Squad for u/16s, going on to deliver a number of these players into the code. The very fact that a dedicated Indigenous footy show like Marngrook exists is an indication of how important the game is to our communities. Hosted by an all-Indigenous panel, including two females, diversity is at Marngrook’s core.

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Beyond multiculturalism, the AFL’s investment into the women’s league, brought forward from 2020 to 2017, will see eight teams battle it out in the national competition.

Last year, over 165 new women’s teams were created, indicating that this is absolutely the right step for the AFL, and it recognises the skills, agility and professionalism of the code’s female counterparts.

This investment will help to ensure longevity of the game and its popularity as Australia’s number one sporting code.

Increasing the focus on the women’s game will inevitably see more and more women’s voices, opinions and comments, something that only last week was in question. We need to listen to and accept the voices that have merit, regardless of gender. Two of these strong voices sit next to me every Thursday night and have done so for the past ten years.

We should embrace the diversity of opinions, not shut them down and not just because we’re investing and growing the game in the gender space. More voices offer more observations, widens the dialogue and therefore offers a more hearty conservation.

Diversity represents many things to many people. I applaud the AFL for its investment and creation of official pathways, the sport will be richer for it.

However, it is a shame when such positive actions are tainted by a minority within the wider game, who continue to have an issue with acceptance, inclusion and racism.

From last’s years Adam Goodes controversy to the recent issue at the Collingwood versus Richmond clash, it is evident that as a nation, we still have some way to go.

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AFL is where all Australians, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexuality can come together. Have the passion, back your team and get a little bit fired up, but do so in a way that isn’t divisive to your fellow AFL peers.

Let AFL be an example of the way we should embrace diversity in our everyday lives, where the field and stands are a true reflection of modern Australia.

Grant Hansen is a co-host of the Marngrook Footy Show which airs on NITV every Thursday at 7:30pm.