FFA out to increase indigenous involvement

by AAP on Oct 19, 2011

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Football Federation Australia chief Ben Buckley admits his organisation can do more to increase Aboriginal involvement in his sport, with the author of a new book on the subject saying soccer has given the AFL and NRL a 30-year head start.

Buckley on Wednesday helped launch the book "The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe", written by John Maynard.

While the AFL and NRL have turned out many superstars over the last three decades and rugby has been illuminated by the skills of the three Ella brothers and Kurtley Beale, football has lagged behind.

Only six Aborigines have played for the Socceroos and just one of those, 1974 World Cup squad member Harry Williams, emerged before the last decade.

"We've given the AFL and NRL a 30-year head start," Maynard told AAP.

"Aboriginal people up to the 1950s and into the 70s, there was barriers preventing them from playing any sport to be truthful.

"Prior to that time there was only a handful of players in the NRL, or the AFL, who actually played up until then.

"The floodgates opened certainly from the 1980s on, when the AFL and NRL subsequently and belatedly really started to target (Aborigines)."

Buckley was well aware of the impact indigenous players had made on the rival football codes.

"As I observe Australian rules, rugby league and rugby union I see games that have embraced indigenous athletes, those indigenous players have changed those games for the better and may I also say they have changed Australia for the better," Buckley said.

"We know football can do more."

Buckley stressed when the reform of the code took place in 2004, it was clear the game hadn't done enough to engage indigenous Australians, but emphasised the FFA was putting programs in place to address the issue.

"Progress has been made, the FFA has developed indigenous programs, hosted indigenous football festivals and appointed ambassadors and listened to advisers," Buckley said.

"This month we have appointed a national indigenous football co-ordinator."

Maynard said football legend Johnny Warren had spoken to authorities about the tremendous potential in the aboriginal communities.

"Sadly John was ignored then and the AFL and the NRL subsequently and belatedly took up the ball and they've produced some of the greatest footballers of those codes over the last 30 years," Maynard said.

"Football Federation Australia are 30 years behind the ball if you like, they have got a lot of catching up to do, which means to tap into Aboriginal communities."

Buckley said the FFA was on the way to achieving a target of having five per cent of the players in the A-League coming from Aboriginal heritage by 2018, with last weekend's scorers including David Williams of Melbourne Heart and James Brown of Gold Coast United.