A new national Indigenous football league is kicking off in Queensland and organisers hope it will discover Australia’s answer to legendary international players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The first Australian Indigenous Football Championships will be played in Logan, south of Brisbane, from November 8-10 with grassroots men’s and women’s teams from across Australia expected to compete.
The best players from the tournament will be contenders for new national men’s and women’s Indigenous teams, which are hoped to play international matches against Indigenous teams from countries such as Fiji or Canada from next year.
The new league is being formed by Football Brisbane’s Indigenous ambassador Ramone Close, who has played competitively overseas, and co-founder Lawrence Gilbert, who believe it will provide a pathway for Indigenous players to reach elite levels.
The championships are being held in partnership with Football Brisbane.
Mr Close said Aussie Rules, the National Rugby League and Netball Australia had been more successful in bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous players.
“Unfortunately in the world of soccer-football there hasn’t been too much success in terms of a pathway being implemented as well as being supported by Australian football bodies,” he said.
“What we are doing is setting up a pathway ourselves and then hopefully have the Football Federation of Australia say ‘Hey, cool guys, you’re doing it, it looks great, can we help as well?’”
Mr Close said a Goori Football program is also being run in communities to develop football skills in children.
“Australia has produced a few high-profile stars – Jade North would be probably our most recent high-profile star,” Mr Close said.
“He was recently at Brisbane Roar. His contract finished last year, so on the men’s side we have no-one playing in our top flight, which is a shame.
“On the women’s side we’re quite successful. We’ve got a number of Indigenous footballers playing in the W-League, Allira Toby is one, Kyah Simon is another.”
Mr Close, who has previously played in Poland and Belgium, said Indigenous players striving to reach the higher levels could face obstacles such as systemic racism, financial hardship and lack of support, especially those from remote areas.
He said the championships would aim to provide a support network.
Teams from as far away as Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin and Mount Isa had inquired about competing in the new competition, which is separate from the National Indigenous Football Championships played in New South Wales.
The competition will cost $2500 per team to enter. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.