More than 70 male Indigenous players, including Shaun Burgoyne, Eddie Betts, Bradley Hill and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, have gathered for the biennial Indigenous All Stars summit in Adelaide this week.
The camp provides the opportunity for Indigenous players to connect with their culture and each other, while discussing and working through key issues with AFL industry leaders, club staff and the AFL Players’ Association.
The 2019 summit is based around three pillars of brotherhood and cultural identity, connection back to community and best practice and linkages back to club.
The AFL Players’ Association Indigenous and Multicultural manager Leon Egan said the three-day camp provides players the opportunity to understand the significance of cultural connection.
“Aboriginal Australia is quite diverse right across the country but our Indigenous players have a significant cultural connection so it’s about bringing them together and giving them that experience,” he told AFLPlayers.com.au ahead of the summit.
For the first time, industry leaders have been invited to attend the camp, providing an opportunity for them to participate in cultural development sessions which will identify and dissect the unique issues facing Indigenous athletes.
Egan said part of the decision to extend the invitation to industry leaders was based on feedback from players who believe the industry and clubs need to develop a great understanding of Indigenous culture and issues pertaining to the playing group.
“The players want to share their culture their cultural knowledge and more so, being able to display that connection and provide education to the industry,” he said.
“Extending the invitations to club staff and AFL executives allows us to bring them into the players environment where they feel safe.”
Hawthorn veteran Shaun Burgoyne said it was exciting to be attending the camp again to bond and share experiences and cultural support with each other.
Burgoyne acknowledged there have been significant changes in the AFL system since he was drafted in 2000.
“There’s more players, more support systems and those things are getting better each and every year. The support networks are there outside of footy to give every player the best opportunity to perform,” he said on day one of the camp.
“Camps like this are really important to get together and help show the young guys what they’re capable of doing.”
Having worked in the Indigenous employment space for over 10 years, Egan has developed a strong connection and understanding about breaking down the barriers related to Indigenous employment for players once they enter, and then transition out of, the AFL system.
Since joining the AFL Players’ Association in September, Egan’s focus has been on developing a culture where Indigenous players can be supported, survive and then thrive in the industry.
“Having the players (and clubs) understand the significant difference of the environment they’ve grown up in and understanding the opportunity they have to fulfill their dream of playing AFL football and then helping them to thrive in such a ruthless environment is a key thing for me,” Egan said.
“In my role, as a support to clubs and regional managers, I’m providing support to try and assist with the cultural safety aspect and component within their AFL clubs to make it is a safer workplace for our Indigenous players.”
Long-term, Egan’s goal is to improve Alumni membership for Indigenous players so that they can be better supported when they transition out of the AFL system.
With a number of the AFL’s Indigenous players hailing from remote communities in Australia’s outback the challenges associated with leaving their culture and family behind at 18 and then returning in their mid-to-late 20s can take its toll.
“Everyone in the community has the perception that they’ve returned home very wealthy and that is not always the case so we’re working with our regional managers and clubs to support those players,” he explained.
“Walking beside them to try and assist them transitioning is critical.”
The summit will offer a platform for players to discuss issues and policies surrounding past and present Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players while also enabling players and industry leaders to experience traditional activities and community visits to Point Pearce and Wardang Island.