Sport as Social Policy?

In the context of Indigenous disadvantage, Francis Xavier Holden floats an idea I’ve never heard before.

I’ve thought for a long time that one simple big idea that would contribute to Aboriginal wellbeing would be to locate one AFL team to Darwin.

It is easy enough to do and would probably be popular. I reckon in time it would end up being a 80% aboriginal team and the flow on/ trickle down/ effects to small communities would be enormous.

There’s plenty of money sloshing around in AFL and I’m assuming like other sports there are large amounts of public money flowing if not in straight subsidies then certainly in infrastructure and facilities right down to footy grounds at schools and local government provision of grounds, buildings, night lights etc.

I have no interest in watching or playing AFL football and have never followed it at all.

Fascinating. The only counter-argument I can think of is that diverting kids into sport may pull them out of formal education. But that’s just a hypothesis, and it may in fact be the case that kids who follow the sports trajectory would otherwise have trod a rougher path.

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15 Responses to Sport as Social Policy?

  1. Tim says:

    On your counter-argument, I wonder if there is some way of connecting footy training and school as per the pools/schools program?

  2. ChrisPer says:

    There is an old paper at the Australian Institute of Criminology on the use of sport programs to divert kids from potential offending, obviously of particular interest to aboriginal kids.

  3. Claire says:

    What, no supporters of the Yuendumu Magpies or the Tiwi Bombers here?
    There’s already a pretty well organised NT AFL sports program, but there are huge logistical problems: things like getting the cash together to get the kids to other communities for competitions, teaching resources for school PE (very few remote schools have their full complement of teachers, partly because the teaching quota is done in term 2, when attendance is at its lowest, so when attendance goes up around the Wet there’s overcrowding), transport to events, etc. Funding those programs properly would be a good start.

    The idea was floated on ABC local radio a few times last year because of the guest AFL matches but none of the out of town players were in favour because of the heat.

  4. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I have long wanted to do a comparative study of Aboriginal AFL players. Each team has a few players (sometimes only one or two). Yet the Aboriginal players usually stand out as being very, very good. This leads me to think that there should be more Aboriginal players in the AFL. Yet, when I’ve spoken to people they make one of two arguments. (1) Aboriginals are statistically over-represented in the AFL already. Okay, that’s true, but so what? (2) Most Aboriginal players are slight (at least compared to the non-Aboriginal players) and fast – midfield type players – there are only so many spots for players of that type. (This might re-ignite a discussion about body type and different sports that came up here last year, or so.) That’s a testable hypothesis. At least part of it is.

    Assuming that latter argument is true, then there may be a lot of Aboriginal players who are very good, but only suited to a limited number of positions. That would suggest that a Darwin team, in and of itself, would be enough and then we might expect competition for limited spots to crowd out formal learning. On the other hand, if the basic hypothesis is not true, then a Darwin team might benefit the Aboriginal community more. The only downside being that interstate teams might then attract fewer Aboriginal players – there may be remittances and the like affected by this.

    Anyway it is an interesting idea.

  5. Sinclair Davidson says:

    sorry, that should be “That would suggest that a Darwin team, in and of itself, would NOT be enough and then we might expect competition for limited spots to crowd out formal learning. “

  6. Patrick says:

    I hate to say it; but the biggest challenge faced by Aborigine players and their teams seems to have been the clash between their culture and the training-times-a-week AFL culture.

    Andrew Walker is the example most prominent in my (non-AFL) mind, but I do recall there being something about it in the AFL. Maybe to do with Dean Rioli?

  7. reason says:

    I don’t think Darwin is big enough to support an AFL team. You would have to get something like 20-30% of the population to home games.

  8. Steve says:

    Seems to me there’s another problem as well – the AFL team has to agree to move. The AFL offered an relocation package of up to $100 million (if you believe their press release) to the Kangaroos to move to the Gold Coast – and were turned down. While I think the idea of an AFL team does have some potential benefits, I just can’t see a team agreeing to move there (or the AFL looking to establish one either). One alternative however might be to start up a VFL team to be located there (similar to the Tassie Mariners) – requires a lower supporter base (given the population issue reason’s comment highlights) and has a more local/community football feel.

  9. Andrew Leigh says:

    Sinc, fascinating theory. Look forward to seeing the paper. Of course, if there were racial discrimination in hiring, this is exactly what you would expect to see (witness the fact that black basketball players on US teams in the 1960s were almost always better than their white counterparts). That discrimination could be employer-driven or spectator-driven, natch.

  10. Eric says:

    I’ve heard the idea raised of an SANFL team in Darwin. Currenty the nine SANFL teams are all based in Adelaide, so it would mean each team would have to fly north once in the season, and the Darwin team would be flying back and forth often. SANFL crowds are not huge, so there would be enough interest in Darwin. They could potentially be one of the better teams in the SANFL, whereas they may not be competetive at AFL level.

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  12. Gavin Findlay says:

    Clearly, these days the AFL is only going to locate teams and games where the supporter base is large. However, research of the kind suggested could encourage the AFL to invest more money in providing infratructure and support for developing young players in the top end. Successful Indigenous players are a demonstrated drawcard, although now they are relatively common in the AFL we would expect diminishing returns. If top-end kids do on average make better players, then it also makes sense for clubs that have recruiting rights in those areas (AFL or SANFL) to increase their investment.

  13. Matt C says:

    Patrick, the ‘culture clash’ issue was a problem for Ashley Sampi at the Eagles also.

  14. Andrew – thanks for taking the idea seriously. I can’t see much downside. Perhaps lower crowds – but so what – I’d guess plenty of matches get low crowds. Perhaps the team might, at least initially get the wooden spoon – but australians love underdogs. Travel is a non issue – teams already travel to Perth and cheap airfares would get punters (who would also be tourists) to Darwin from all over.

    It might be that the style of aboriginal players gets to eventually alter the way the game is played. If all the best players get poached – then so what – it will provide a career path.

    Best of all it caters for what we know a lot of aboriginals (men) are good at and love.

    One of the problems we have is that all public programs are so bloody methodist, joyless and worthy as well as being unsuccessful. Why not have a bit of free public good and fun.

    It will of course have the great benefit of legitimising public drunkenness and brawling for the aboriginal players.

  15. The Doctor says:

    “It might be that the style of aboriginal players gets to eventually alter the way the game is played. ”
    I’m not sure if you are aware of AFL history here – it is thought that one of the game’s distinguishing features, the high mark, originated in an Aboriginal ball game.

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