The sporting world is arguably one of the most recognised platforms that aims to show they are trying to be inclusive of our Indigenous culture and showing support for their Blak athletes, but sometimes these actions feel like tokenistic moves.
This isn’t to discredit the magic that comes out of Indigenous Rounds, from NAIDOC Weeks or even Reconciliation Weeks. The use of Indigenous uniforms, jerseys, dresses and guernseys throughout these rounds and changing them up each year are great ways to bring together culture and art and celebrate our Indigenous artists.
But it becomes tokenistic when leagues highlight that they’re making a move toward recognition, only to pull the rug out from under us again.
Earlier this year, the NRL included Traditional Place Names for its Indigenous round, then removed them for the following rounds only to bring them up once again for NAIDOC Week.
There is more harm in throwing around tokenistic moves than there is in continuing to try and implement more inclusivity into sporting leagues. What would be a true step forward is to include Traditional Place Names in the draws all the time, not just when it’s convenient to show recognition and respect.
Throughout NAIDOC Week the celebration of Blak athletes was tremendous, we had Ash Barty winning Wimbledon, Patty Mills becoming the first Indigenous flag bearer for the Olympics, Tai “BamBam” Tuivasa winning his UFC fight in Las Vegas, and Josh Addo-Carr and Alex Johnston becoming the top try scorers this season in NRL.
Let’s not stop talking about these achievements once the week is over, let’s highlight Blak excellence and Indigenous culture all year round.
This year we had the most Indigenous athletes to compete at the Olympics in Tokyo than we have ever had before and I do believe that the Olympics, and Australia in general, are doing a great job at highlighting this historic moment.
But there is also an issue that when I say ‘Blak Olympian’, people can still only name Cathy Freeman.
I see the comments and I hear the public when we highlight Blak athletes and they don’t understand why including and celebrating Indigenous culture in the Games is important.
We don’t have 16 athletes at the Olympics because they’re the only talented Blak athletes in Australia, in many cases it comes down to lack of opportunities and accessibility.
There definitely have been improvements in sport, we are seeing more Welcomes to Country and more Indigenous artists contributing to stadium designs, uniform artwork and even the use of balls with Indigenous artwork on them.
But then we see terrible instances of racism on the field, most recently with Taylor Walker using a racial slur against Narungga and Ngarrindjeri man Robbie Young.
To truly support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes, we need to stop with token moves and empty public statements.
There must be more done than just creating a Reconciliation Action Plan or putting a Traditional Place Name in your Twitter bio for a few weeks then getting rid of it.
For your movement and support to be believed you need to show authenticity, otherwise we can see through it.
By Teisha Cloos