Sports

The mission to get more Indigenous footballers into the A-League and W-League

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In Australia's remotest corners football is played endlessly on dirt roads and in the bush.

And yet despite boasting huge participation numbers of junior footballers, the sport has one of the lowest rates of Indigenous players in its professional ranks.

Less than 2 per cent of players in the A-League and W-League are of Indigenous background, compared to 12 per cent in the NRL and more than 10 per cent of AFL players.

Shay Evans is inspiring the next generation of Indigenous footballers after coming through the John Moriarty Foundation program

"Football has had a limited and somewhat inconsistent approach to Indigenous communities," concedes Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop.

The John Moriarty Football program aims to change that by identifying top Indigenous players and inspiring positive social change in remote communities.

Founded in 2012, the program has recently received $4.5 million to expand to 12 new sites across New South Wales and Queensland over the next three years.

"This partnership with the Federal Government will mean we can step up our commitment and we will be able to offer this program in a much more consistent way than the game has been able to before," Mr Gallop said.

Two sites will be rolled out next year and 10 in 2020, with locations still to be determined.

Building hope in the Top End

The program has made waves in its two pilot sites in the Northern Territory, in Borroloola and Robinson River.

Seventeen-year-old Borroloola product Shay Evans is a graduate of the program and earned selection in the Young Matildas squad earlier this year.

"It helped me and everyone in the community to look for a better future and I come down to Sydney to get a better education and explore things outside of Borroloola," Evans said.

Evans is thrilled other young people will now get a shot.

"We've seen huge success in Borroloola and Robinson River involved in the program since it was established in 2012, with more than 90 per cent of children in Borroloola now participating," she said.

Young Matildas player Shay Evans embraces former Socceroo and Indigenous football champion John Moriarty

Matildas coach Alen Stajcic was the first national coach to scout talent and run a training camp this year in Borroloola.

The program was founded by John Moriarty, the first Indigenous footballer to be selected to represent the Socceroos in 1960.

"We believe this will do a tremendous amount for our kids," Moriarty said.

"Football has been a great starter for me in my early life and allowed me to travel overseas and see what life can be like, in those days when we were still not citizens of Australia."

He hopes supporting and scouting talent will have a profound impact on disadvantaged communities and bring Indigenous youth to the forefront of the game.

"Because Aboriginal kids, in my view, are tailor made for this game, with their dexterity, speed and quick thinking," Moriarty said.

It's not just about finding talent but giving youth an opportunity and promoting mental, physical and emotional well-being.

"This is a game-changing move for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, designed to help children between two and 16 to reach their full potential in football, in education and in life," Federal Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt said.

Original Article

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