No chance for 'our' own team without Sheedy

National Indigenous Times
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

IT'S A scary thought really, and it's little wonder Kevin Sheedy took a backwards step when quizzed on the viability of an all-Aboriginal AFL team last week.

Why would you want to do that?" Sheedy had told reporters at the AFL's all-Indigenous Kickstart Camp in Melbourne. "That's not probably nowhere near where the AFL would want to go. They want a spread of talent, so let's enjoy it in everybody's camp."

Am I hearing this right?  Is this Kevin 'the much-lauded champion of Indigenous football talent' Sheedy talking? I can understand the AFL wanting to pour cold water on the whole concept. That's a given. An all-Aboriginal team would be viewed as 'race exclusive' and 'insular' in the wider public eye. For a football code in the delicate stages of expansion into the western suburbs of Sydney, not to mention the bright lights of the Gold Coast, lending weight to such an idea in modern day Australia would be public relations suicide.

Just ask successive federal governments what happens when you propose to formally embolden and individualise a group of Aboriginal people -- you rapidly lose the hearts and minds of mainstream Australia. ATSIC springs to mind.

Ask Joe Regular his thoughts on the elected advisory commission, and you'd get a response along these lines: "Corrupt mate. They were all dishonest, and half of them were skimming off the top."

I'm hoping most blackfellas know this is utter rubbish, and the nine successive independent audits prove it, but like it or not, that's the streak of mud that's stuck to ATSIC since it's demise in 2005.

So unfortunately, whether you're talking sport or politics, mainstream Australia's your bread and butter.

But admittedly, for Sheedy to shoot the concept down in flames without so much as a flinch raised my eyebrow high above my coffee mug last week.

How can it possibly be a negative move?

As murmurs rippled through the world of Aussie rules recently that the AFL would explore the idea of extending the Celtic brand into Sydney and have a team largely represented by Gaelic players, I found it difficult to find a glaring point of difference between the two concepts.

The AFL's Gaelic connection haemorrhaged bad publicity after the Croke Park fight-a-thon back in 2006. A disaster for both codes, just about every player that took the field threw wild haymakers at his opposite during the three-game tour, and Brendan Fevola even had a crack at a no-nonsense Irish barman to cap things off.

After all that, they'll 'explore' an Irish, Gaelic team, but not an Indigenous one?

We already have the Indigenous All-Star game, albeit every second year, and there's little doubting the AFL has some commendable programs in place for the nurturing of young Aboriginal talent. So what better way to endorse the code in Aboriginal Australia, indeed around the world?

It's a proven success isn't it? They wheel out Aboriginal culture and its people when the Pope arrives, or during the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, and it's the enduring centrepiece of nearly every tourism campaign.

So why not market an all-Indigenous team? The code itself was built around an Aboriginal game to begin with, so it makes a whole lot of sense from where I'm standing. But Sheedy was having none of it last week.

The one thing that really makes our game is spreading the talent right throughout the whole nation. Otherwise it ends up becoming exactly what you don't want," he said. "I would rather have the spread of (Indigenous) players so we build a nation together."

I'm not sure exactly what Sheedy meant by the comment, " ends up becoming exactly what you don't want", and I intend to ask him, but you get the feeling he's referring to the heightened skill level of black players.

Modern football clubs sculpt their future success around their Aboriginal contingent, and Port Power even won a premiership on the back on theirs.

I have to concede though; a team of blackfellas would be unfair wouldn't it? The names speak for themselves, and would have any opposition praying for a freak monsoonal downpour just to slow the game up a bit. Wells, Burgoyne, Goodes, McLeod, Motlop, Lovett, Davis, Ryder, Pearce, Rioli, Franklin, O'Loughlin... Sheesh!

As the years tick by, though, the tokenism pertaining to Aboriginal players in the VFL/AFL has started to fade, and their true value as spectator drawcards is starting to be fully understood.

Punters come to games of AFL to see freaks like Hawthorn's Cyril Rioli take the game they know and love to all new heights. You can hear it in the pitch of the crowd's roar as it tilts to a crescendo when blackfellas get the ball in hand.

Week after week would be a 'blockbuster' with an Aboriginal team in the mix, and for the life of me, I can't see a downside.

Australia's very own All Blacks may not attract the corporates it needs, nor the membership figures to be truly competitive, but it was never off to a great start without Sheedy's backing.


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