The AFL has decided to end their partnership with Rio Tinto, a major sponsor of the Indigenous pathway programs, after increasing scrutiny following the destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge caves. 

Rio Tinto funds three Indigenous football programs, the Flying Boomerangs (boys), the Woomeras (girls) and the Footy Means Business program for 18 to 24-year-old Indigenous players. The mining giants also contributed sponsorships.

The partnership, which lasted for ten years, was worth close to $1.5 million to the AFL.

The AFL’s Head of Inclusion Tanya Hosch was in consultation with Indigenous groups and leaders who welcomed the decision before the league recommended to sever the partnership. The decision is yet to be formally ratified.

Given Rio Tinto was such a substantial contributor to important programs, the AFL will need to find a replacement sponsor to keep the programs funded.

Tanya Hosch told NIT she was not able to comment on furthers details surrounding the partnership.

Essendon player Joe Daniher and Former Big Bash League cricketer Ben Abbatangelo were among those criticising the league and their partnerships with mining companies.

“If the partnership is continued, then the AFL has broken its promise and is siding with systemic oppression,” Abbatangelo said in a statement on his Instagram.

The partnership with Rio Tinto was up for renewal this year. Meanwhile, mining company BHP signed a $5 million sponsor for the league earlier in the year which still remains.

Rio Tinto also told NIT they “won’t be commenting” on the partnership as there has not yet been an official statement made by the AFL.

In an inquiry last week, the mining company apologised and conceded it had failed to keep Traditional Owners of the Pilbara informed about their actions.

By Grace Crivellaro