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'Painful and sorrowful day': NRL joins Australia Day backlash as Hockeyroos, AFL teams call for date change

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25th January, 2024
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The NRL and Football Australia have joined Cricket Australia’s stance on January 26, with the country’s hockey teams and several AFL clubs also pushing for an immediate change to the national day date.

Under fire from some sectors this week for not using “Australia Day” in marketing around the Gabba Test, Cricket Australia found several allies on Friday.

In a post to social media, the NRL said it “acknowledges today represents a painful and sorrowful day for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

“Today, we pay tribute to the resilience and the enormous contribution our Aboriginal and Torres Strait brothers and sisters make to our nation and the greatest game of all,” the post continued.

Notably, the social media statement made no reference at all to “Australia Day”.

Tennis Australia will also skip celebrations at the Australian Open on Friday, while Football Australia took a similar stance on social media.

“We acknowledge that today has different meanings to our diverse nation,” a post from the organisation read.

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“We will always continue to respect, represent and celebrate all the cultures, communities and people that make our country and sport so great.”

The Kookaburras and Hockeyroos then went one step further, calling for a change of date away from January 26 in a year where both loom as gold medal hopes in Paris.

“We are all proud to be Australians, however we do not see January 26 as a day of celebration,” the sides said in a joint statement supported by Hockey Australia.

“Today, the current Hockeyroo and Kookaburra athletes support our sisters Mariah Williams, a proud Wiradjuri woman, and Brooke Peris, a proud Yawuru woman, and stand in solidarity with all First Nations people.

“Be mindful and have empathy. We can celebrate what it means to be Australian on another day.”

Several NRL and AFL clubs were among other clubs to acknowledge January 26 as a painful day for Australia’s Indigenous people.

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As of 10am, no major Australian sporting codes had referenced “Australia Day” in any posts, nor had any AFL or NRL clubs.

AFL team North Melbourne also called for a change to the date, following the footsteps of Port Adelaide and Western Bulldogs on Thursday.

It comes just days after Australian cricket captain Pat Cummins, then star batter Steve Smith, both voiced their push for a rethink on the January 26 public holiday.

“We encourage listening, understanding and reflection of our Nation’s shared past,” the Kangaroos said in a statement on Friday.

“We will be stronger together when we can celebrate the history of the country we call home, on a date that unites us.”

The Power and Bulldogs released powerful statements with a similar message

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AFL clubs have released statements in recent years, acknowledging the date is full of sadness for Australia’s Indigenous people.

But Port and the Bulldogs’ stance is stronger than ever, coming on Thursday, a day before Australia Day was officially marked.

“The Port Adelaide Football club acknowledges our First Nations people’s continuous connection to these lands for more than 60,000 years, and that the 26th of January represents a day of immense sadness and sorrow for many in our community,” the Power’s statement reads.

“The Port Adelaide Football club respects that everyone has the right to their own views.

“The board, staff and players of the Port Adelaide Football club support changing the date.”

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January 26 has long been a difficult symbol for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people given it marks the anniversary of the arrival of the British First Fleet into Sydney Cove and the raising of the Union Jack.

Many proponents of a date change have dubbed January 26 as Invasion Day.

Norm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen and other Bulldogs players, including captain Marcus Bontempelli, were filmed discussing why Australia Day should move to another date.

“It’s amazing to celebrate the life we live in Australia, who we are,” Johannisen said.

“For me, it’s just ridiculous how it could be set on a date that has so much pain and emotional attachment to Indigenous people.”

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Exciting Bulldogs forward Arthur Jones labelled January 26 a “day of mourning”.

“Going to the march with all the boys last year… it’s called Survival Day in our term, the oldest culture alive,” he said.

Premiership midfielder Tom Liberatore added: “The longer I’ve spent time with First Nations people, particularly teammates now, to hear what you’ve got to say and hear what you’ve been through, allows me to understand a lot more,” he said.

“It’s only a positive thing to change the date.”

© AAP

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