More than a game

Photo taken by Claudia Haines-Cappeau, of an AFL football

Photo taken by Claudia Haines-Cappeau, of an AFL football

Apanda Anyuon, ECU Reporter

Indigenous adults who play football are healthier, happier and better connected to the community, according to a new report on Indigenous participation in sport, by The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (BCEC).

The importance of sport to the lives of Indigenous Australians has been widely acknowledged, particularly in the context of remote communities. In the past 12 months 46.6 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children reported playing sport.

BCEC’s latest report examines the physical and mental wellbeing and community connection benefits that flow from playing football.

BCEC Principal Research Fellow and report author Associate Professor Mike Dockery said the report reveals the benefits of playing AFL extend beyond physical health benefits, highlighting the positive mental health and community level outcomes.

“This finding is particularly important given the high rates of psychological stress and incarceration experienced by Indigenous men.

“The incarceration rate for Indigenous juveniles is 24 times that of non-Indigenous youth. AFL has an important role to play in fostering mental health and positively engaging disaffected youth,” Mr Dockery said.

The report also highlights the role of AFL in bringing people together from all sectors of the community, including Indigenous, refugee and migrant groups, in a safe space of mutual respect.

“The positive social and community level impacts are likely to commence with today’s players, but the longer-term health benefits in the form of positive self-esteem and identity for Indigenous girls and women will flow over years to come,” Associate Professor Dockery.

Dockery said that, “Football offers opportunities to strengthen and pass on kinship networks, and for men and women to gather separately to talk about issues,”

“It’s not just players, it’s umpires, bus drivers, cooks, administrators, friends, family – football brings the whole community together,” He said.

Around 65,500 Indigenous Australians participated in sport, other than as a player.

According to a data from the Australian Bureau of Statistic, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social survey 2008, founded 11% (36,000 people) of Indigenous people participated as a coach, instructor or teacher.

A higher percentage were men (14% or 21,000 people) compared with women (8.4% or 14,000 people).

The report co-author and Senior Research Fellow, Dr Sean Gorman from Curtin University’s School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts, said the report also found that AFL is an inclusive sport that offers wide accessibility irrespective of socio-economic background.

“While children from disadvantaged backgrounds were less likely to participate in other organised sport, this was less apparent for AFL,” Dr Gorman said.

Indigenous adults who played football in the previous 12 months reported higher life satisfaction than people who did not participate in sport. They were twice as likely to rate their health as excellent compared to those who played no sport.

Indigenous adults who play football report more frequent social contact and are more likely to feel they have support outside their immediate household.

The full report can be found here.