An Australian Rules football competition in Central Australia’s bush communities could boost the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people, according to a Charles Darwin University researcher.
Northern Institute Indigenous social researcher Professor Barry Judd said an on-country football league was needed with support from the AFL.
Prof Judd, a descendant of the Pitjantjatjara people and a leading scholar on Aboriginal participation in Australian sport, has spent several years observing the social impact of Australian Rules on Indigenous Australia and how participation in organised sport affects identity and everyday life in remote communities.
He said a number of social issues could be linked to football’s existing structure in Central Australia, which funnels many games into Alice Springs.
“Young men come to Alice Springs to play or watch football and don’t go home,” he said.
“This can lead to overcrowding in town camps, people running out of money for food, and law and order issues that contribute to the high number of Indigenous men who end up in jail.
“We could minimise risk by reducing the number of trips these young fellas make to Alice to play football in a way that is similar to how the game is structured in Top End communities and Arnhem Land.”
Prof Judd speculated that a “bush league” might comprise six or eight teams from communities west and north-west of Alice Springs competing in a home-and-away format followed by a short finals series.
“We have the expertise to study and analyse such a football competition and to track changes in wellbeing, but what’s needed is a supporter who’s prepared to invest in on-country football over a number of years,” he said.
“Football has a positive impact on the lives of young Aboriginal men by keeping them fit and on the right path, but it could do so much more if we took the time to restructure football in Central Australia.”