Many stories, one goal: Mapping Indigenous pathways in the AFL
Kelly Applebee from the AFL Players Association talks about mapping of Indigenous pathways in the AFL.
Thank you very much and I definitely did retire at the wrong time but I did get a little bit of money out of it which was really, really good.
Thank you for having me here today. I know that we’ve only got about 15 minutes each and I feel like probably most presenters could speak on their topic for about four hours, so essentially what I’m here to talk to you about today is this particular document ‘Many stories - one goal’ and we basically call it the Best Practice Guidelines in supporting Indigenous footballers so as mentioned I’m the Diversity Manager at the Players Association. I’ve been at the PA for nearly four years now and one of the things that the CEO first said to me when I came into the position was, “We need a document that can support AFL clubs to support Indigenous players” so he said, “That is your No. 1 job” so I’m pleased to say that we’re actually on Version 2 and we’ve just released our second version this year so I’m going to give you a quick rundown of a little bit about what the Players Association does and then we’ll get into the actual document and you’ll note that I actually felt that this was on a Saturday and not a Friday. I got the date wrong but anyway ---
So at the Players Association we’ve been around for about 42 years and the Players Association was developed by players for players. We’ve currently got 9% of our players that identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander which as I’m sure you would be aware based on the percentage across Australia of just over 2%, we’ve got a really strong number of Indigenous players that are playing our game at the moment.
We’ve currently got 15% of players who are from a multicultural background and the AFL are doing some really, really great work at grassroots level and we really see that that number will increase dramatically over the next 5‑10 years time.
For the first time this year we introduced female members into our organisation. If you’ve been living under a rock you may not know that there’s a women’s competition that’s starting next year and we’ve now got 200 - I think that number is actually about 230 now of our female athletes that have nominated for the draft which will happen next week.
We’ve got 34 staff members across a broad range of services that we provide to our current members at the moment and sorry I should also add that I think we’ve got just over 800 male player members as well so we’ve got 100% membership from our AFL male players which is really really important for us.
As I mentioned we provide a really varied range of services from wellbeing through to financial advice through to representation whether it’s a legal matter or just some support around an actual contract through to obviously promoting what our players do off field which we think is a really really important thing as well.
On the back of that we also have Advisory Boards such as an Indigenous Players Advisor Board, a Multicultural Players Advisory Board and a Female Players Advisory Board as well. We think those Boards are really important to make sure that we’re giving the right direction in terms of supporting our members and ensuring that we’ve got everything that those players need to make sure that they can maximise their time in the game.
As I mentioned we’ve got an Indigenous Players Advisory Board. That Board consists of nine of our current players and has been established for about four years now and was headed up by Adam Goodes for three years and is now - once he retired Shaun Burgoyne is in that position so we’ve got some really powerful names that sit on that Board and they provide the Players Association with some really strong direction around how we can make sure our Indigenous players can stay in the game for as long as possible.
So ‘Leaders of today for our brothers tomorrow’ is basically the Mission Statement of this Advisory Board and I think it speaks for itself so this Advisory Board wants to make sure that any future male or female Indigenous players that come into our game have every opportunity to maximise their careers so at the moment there’s a gap in terms of the career length for Indigenous and non-Indigenous players and we’re working towards making sure that that’s consistent with either Indigenous or non-Indigenous so basically the Advisory Board came up with this idea of “We need a document to help AFL clubs to understand our culture and to understand what they can do to ensure that when players transition into the game and then obviously when they leave the game, they’ve had the best experience possible”.
So in terms of this actual document basically at one of our Indigenous camps which we hold every two years we sat down with every Indigenous player and said to them, “What worked for you? What didn’t work for you and let’s actually talk about it” so it was a really really big camp where players said, “Well this is what happened for me when I got drafted and I didn’t like this” and “This is what happened for me when I got drafted and I really liked it” so what we were able to do is bring together this document. I assisted with facilitating it but the words that are in this actual document are from our players, from their families and their communities and also from Elders as well so we helped facilitate it but they were very much the people that brought this document to life.
The good thing about this document is I don’t think it matters whether you’re in the AFL industry or not or whether you’re working at the Australian Sports Commission or a community group, the framework that’s been developed in here you just change the word ‘football’ and add yours in and I think there is something in it for everyone to ensure that if you’ve got Indigenous Australians within your organisation that these are some of the things that you should be considering when you employ them and how you can support them so what I’m going to do is go through really quickly the four key areas of this document and hopefully it will capture exactly what’s in it.
So we talk about induction - when we talk about induction we’re talking about transition into the AFL game so in some cases it might be a 17/18-year-old young Indigenous man who could be from a remote community or could be from the suburbs around Melbourne but what we want to be able to do regardless of where you come from, you’re going to get the support that you need to transition in so some of the things up here that we’ve indentified is - so visit to a home community. As you know, AFL is a really big thing in Australia and sometimes you need to go and visit a particular place to understand a particular background, family, what’s available and what might not be available so for those of you that have travelled to remote communities, asking a player to go and do a gym program - there may not be a gym there. Asking a player to leave their family when their family is their whole community could be a difficult thing so what we’re asking in this booklet is for the clubs to look at this actual document and understand what players feel is best before they draft an Indigenous player.
So what we’re saying here in terms of a visit to a home community is your Recruiter and maybe your Player Development Manager who’s going to have a lot of time with this particular player to actually travel and go and meet the family and understand exactly what makes this player tick. Go and live in the life of that particular family for a couple of days so that when you’re actually asking a player to go and do something over the Christmas break or whatever it is you know exactly what’s in their surrounds and that’s I think a really important thing.
So relationships to family so some people might go like, “Oh what’s your mum and dad doing? Why can’t they support you and let you come over?” Mum and dad might not be the key person in that young man’s life. It might be grandma or grandpa or it might an aunty or it might be all of them so again it’s really important for the club to understand who that key contact is for that young man.
I won’t go through all of them but living arrangements is a perfect example so coming from a remote community, you may not be aware of the tram system in Melbourne; you may not know what a Met Card is - all of these types of things - what we want to be able to do is when our young Indigenous men come to Melbourne as an example, if they have an option of living with a non‑Indigenous family and an Indigenous family so if they’ve got a really strong connection to culture what it actually does is if they become really homesick at least they’ve got some Indigenous people around them. Some of our Indigenous boys actually said that they’ve been in Melbourne for three or four years and they’ve never seen an Indigenous person. That would be really difficult when you’re living in a community where it’s just Indigenous people so again it’s about asking questions and listening to the player to make sure that that transition into the game is as smooth as possible because unfortunately we’ve seen a lot of very talented Indigenous footballers leave the game because they feel like that transition hasn’t been supported enough.
So this document highlights those key areas that you can see up on the board and gives AFL clubs an understanding of how they can approach the transition into the game for these young men so if we can get this right then I think that we’ll actually see a lot of our Indigenous boys stay in the game for a much longer period.
‘Our Culture’ is basically an insight into the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island culture. As you can see there’s a lot that fits in this category. This is actually the most popular section of the document as well. Let’s just say as an example a player comes to their Player Development Manager and says, ‘Hey, I’ve got to go home for Sorry Business”. Most people would go, “What is Sorry Business?” so what this document actually does is at least it gives them an insight into what Sorry Business is so for those of you that don’t understand, if there’s a passing in the community then that’s basically known in the majority of Aboriginal communities as Sorry Business and that can go from a couple of days through to two or three weeks. It depends on each community and the mob and how they represent with this stuff as well.
So again it’s just breaking down the barriers of this player not feeling shame or embarrassed around the fact that they’re going to someone to say, “Hey, I’ve got to go back home” in the middle of the footie season for Sorry Business and the person responding says, “I don’t even know what that is” so again it’s just that understanding those key words within the culture so that they can actually feel comfortable to have that conversation - both ways.
So a couple of other things so ‘Men’s Business’ so we’ve got probably about four or five AFL players in the competition that at the moment they’re initiated men and so what that means is that they hold some really strong responsibility for their community. It’s very different for each community and I would not even know half of what some of the Mens’ Business requirements are but again it’s about a club respecting these traditions and these requirements for these particular men and supporting them to go back home for initiation or whatever it might be.
Just looking here - Stolen Generation - we always hear Stolen Generation but what does it actually mean? We’ve actually got some players that are playing in the game that their mothers or fathers were a part of the Stolen Generation. That just blows my mind because it means that they’re only like 50 or 55 and that’s just crazy. When you hear about the Stolen Generation for me I think that was many, many years ago but it actually wasn’t so again it’s about creating the conversation and just opening the door to understanding exactly what some of these players and their families may have experienced.
One of the things that we’re pushing really hard for is to have every AFL club introduce an Indigenous Liaison Officer within their base of staff and the reason why we think that is important is those people actually create a lot of those conversations within clubs so rather than just having a resource that we hope that clubs look at and individuals look at we can actually have an Indigenous person that’s within that club that can 1) support the players like we’ve got one of our clubs that have got 10 Indigenous boys on their list but 2) also in the hallways being able to educate in that cultural awareness that you don’t actually know that it’s happening because that person is actually sitting around at a lunch table having a conversation about what NAIDOC Week means to them. Oh, I’ve only got three minutes left!
Okay, so our culture is really important and I can share this document so everyone can start to get an understanding of exactly what the detail is.
The other one that we think is really important for all of our AFL players is personal and professional support. The personal support is a really simple one. Understanding what the individual needs are, how they best learn and that should be with any individual not just Indigenous players but make sure that there’s a conversation around how can we support you and what do you actually want to achieve out of your game? The personal support is a really important one for our Indigenous players. A lot of our young Indigenous men have children and they could be dads by the age of 18 when they arrive on the AFL doorstep so we want to make sure that they’ve got the support that they need especially if they’re coming from a community where the family basically cares for those children from day one. If they’re moved away from that they probably feel quite isolated so again it’s about assessing how you can best support those individuals and making sure those processes are set up to ensure that they don’t become homesick and they enjoy their time in the AFL and they can maximise their time within the AFL.
The final piece as well is - so this is in partnership with AFL clubs. All AFL clubs have endorsed this document so they understand the importance of it and they understand where it’s come from which is obviously from the players and the community members and we’re working towards not only reconciliation but we’re working towards developing action plans for every club so we know that not every club is doing all the things that we believe is important in this document but let’s work towards that so there might be some clubs that do cultural awareness training but there might be a couple that don’t so that will potentially become an action plan for them that they will start to have conversations with whoever they need to within the club to say, “Hey, we think we need to be doing some cultural awareness training” so every club, 18 of our clubs will have a developed action plan that we as a Players Association can work with them to ensure that it doesn’t matter where an Indigenous player gets drafted to, they get exactly the same support regardless of what colour jumper that they put on.
So for us we think that’s really, really important. The clubs play a critical role and the Players Association plays an important leadership within this space because we have ongoing I guess connection with our Indigenous players and they feel really comfortable to be able to share I guess insights into their community and their families to ensure that the industry can make sure that every player regardless of their situation is maximising their time in the game.
So that’s all I really wanted to talk about. It’s a very, very broad - I honestly could talk about this for about six hours. I am definitely not an expert in this space. What has been such a really insightful time for me is to actually sit down and speak to these Indigenous players about where they’ve come from and what is important to them but how the industry can really maximise being able to support every single player regardless of where they come from so I hope you’ve learnt something out of it.
As I said earlier this is definitely a document that is not AFL-related. Obviously there’s a number of things in there that talks about the AFL environment but it’s a document that can be transferred over to any organisation and I think input into your processes and policies that might be developed to support inclusion or diversity is something that this document can hopefully set that framework.
The other thing I will just add really quickly is that we’re also looking to develop one for our multicultural players as well so currently we’ve got I believe 27 different cultures in our game and again we want to make sure that when they transition into the game that those clubs understand exactly what’s important to those particular players and what obligations they might have to their religion or their culture.