Indigenous Australians and Sport

Indigenous Australians and Sport          
Prepared by  Prepared by: Chris Hume and Christine May, Senior Research Consultants, Clearinghouse for Sport, Sport Australia
evaluated by  Evaluation by: Professor Colin Tatz, Visiting Fellow, Politics and International Relations, Australian National University (December 2016), Dr Paul Oliver, Director, Oliver and Thompson Consultancy (January 2017)
Reviewed by  Reviewed by network: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated  Last updated:  28 May 2019
Please refer to the Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer page for
more information concerning this content.

Community Sport Coaching
Sport Australia


The Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people possessing diverse languages and customs are one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures with a history dating back more than 50,000 years.  

There is a recognised 'gap' between the health and wellbeing of Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in Australia. Indigenous peoples as a cohort generally fall short of the expected indices measuring the wider population health and wellbeing of all Australians. Australian governments at all levels are committed to ‘Closing the Gap’ of indigenous disadvantage in areas such as: preserving and celebrating indigenous culture; child mortality; education; employment; economic development; healthy lives; and building safe and strong communities. 

There is broad cross-government support and action, through a range of sport and active recreation policies, programs, and funding initiatives, to actively contribute to improving the health and well-being of Indigenous Australians.

Key Messages 


The Australian Government and all State and Territory Governments are committed to Closing the Gap of indigenous disadvantage.


Sport, and sport-related programs, can assist in engaging Indigenous communities, developing wellbeing, and play an important role in progress towards Closing the Gap targets.


Sport needs to work closely with government and non-government programs to harness opportunities and assist in delivering long term outcomes.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up approximately three per cent of Australia’s population with almost 80 per cent living in regional and metropolitan areas. While only 14 per cent of Indigenous Australians live in very remote areas, they make up 45 per cent of Australians living in these areas. [source: Closing The Gap: Prime Minister's Report 2017, Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2017]

However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can expect to live 10–17 years less than other Australians. Babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at more than twice the rate of other Australian babies, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. [source: Close the Gap, Oxfam Australia]

The Australian Government, other government, and non-government organisations are committed to ‘Closing the Gap’ of indigenous disadvantage in areas such as: preserving and celebrating indigenous culture; child mortality; education; employment; economic development; healthy lives; and building safe and strong communities.

As part of this broader agenda, sport can help break down barriers and assist with entry into Indigenous communities. Sport can contribute to community identity and serve as a focal point for engagement, pride, and achievement. The diversity of sports and sporting activities (including social sport and physical recreation) makes it an ideal medium to reach men and women from every age-group, culture, and socio-economic background.

In particular, since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, (2001), sport has been seen as an avenue to engage with Indigenous peoples in conjunction with deliberate programming to assist in delivering multiple policy outcomes.

Examples of sporting programs that originated from the Commission's inquiry included: The Young Person's Sport and Recreation Development Program, the Far West Academy of Sport in Cobar, and the Aboriginal Sports Development Program. 

Note: for this portfolio the Clearinghouse for Sport uses the term 'Indigenous Australians' to refer to Australia's first people. This term refers to 'Aboriginal Australians' and 'Torres Strait Islander people'. 

In June 2013, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs tabled its report from the inquiry into the contribution of sport to Indigenous well-being and mentoring entitled "Sport - More Than Just A Game".  

The inquiry examined the ways in which government and non-government organisations and sporting bodies were:

  • increasing opportunities for Indigenous participation, including opportunities for Indigenous women;
  • utilising sport as a vehicle to improve outcomes for Indigenous people; and
  • using Indigenous sporting programs to contribute to Closing the Gap targets.

In the report, the Committee Chair, Janelle Saffin, wrote:

The success of sports programs can be reliant upon strong partnerships fostered between Government, sporting bodies and the corporate sector. The Committee recognised that the benefits gained from sport were more than about simply increasing Indigenous participation in sport – it was about engaging the local community as a whole. Community involvement included encouraging Indigenous people to become involved in the administration, umpiring and coaching positions in addition to playing sport.Janelle Saffin

The report concluded that there is evidence that sport can assist in achieving outcomes for Indigenous communities, and provided 11 recommendations around the themes of Sport as a vehicle to Close the Gap; Participation in sport for Indigenous Australians; and Partnerships, mentoring and culture.

The recommendations identified the need for: better frameworks for service delivery; more evidence-based research; robust evaluation of programs using sport for both sport participation and non-sport outcomes; new or increased funding for programs and activities including the Learn Earn Legend program, Indigenous sporting carnivals, and increasing Indigenous women and girls physical activity; and developing and promoting Indigenous coaches, umpires, health workers, administrators, and role models at both community and elite levels. Additionally, the report recommended investigating strategies to encourage corporate sponsorship of Indigenous sporting programs linked to Closing the Gap outcomes. 

In September 2017 the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre release a report authored by Michael Dockery and Sean Gorman. After the Siren: The community benefits of Indigenous participation in Australia Rules Football investigated Indigenous peoples’ participation in football at a grass-roots level, and the associated individual and community level outcomes. The report was based on analyses of data from the 2014-2015 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), supplemented by interviews with a number of stakeholders in West Australian communities. It provides a very strong social-benefit case for greater investment in structured AFL competitions in remote communities. Some key findings included:  

  • 46.6% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children reported playing sport in the past 12 months.
  • Almost 50% of young Indigenous men aged 15 to 19, living in the AFL States (Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory), participate in AFL.
  • AFL is the second-most popular team sport (after rugby/touch football) among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with almost 45,000 Indigenous players; participation is slightly higher among children (8.2%) than among adults (7.3%).
  • Participation in AFL increases as one moves away from the major cities – reaching more than 65% for young men aged between 15 to 29 living in remote areas of Australia.
  • Around 65,500 Indigenous Australians participated in sport, other than as a player.
  • Those playing AFL were twice as likely as those playing no sport to rate their health as excellent.
  • Mental health is estimated to be higher among Indigenous men and women who participate in organised sport, after controlling for an extensive range of other factors.
  • Indigenous adults who played football in the previous 12 months reported higher life satisfaction than people who did not participate in sport.
  • Indigenous adults who play football report more frequent social contact and are more likely feel they have support outside their immediate household.
  • 56% of children who participated in football were assessed as being in excellent health compared to 48% of those who had not participated in any organised sport.
  • Children who played football were 6 percentage points less likely to be assessed as having learning difficulties due to health issues.
  • Boys living in remote areas playing AFL had a 20% lower truancy incidence.
The BCEC report also found that the WAFC has reported almost a doubling in the number of female football teams in WA from 84 to 157, since the inception of the AFL Women's (AFLW) competition in 2017.
  • Women in remote Aboriginal region striving to be AFL stars as footy brings community together. Emily Jane Smith, ABC Kimberley, (14 September 2017). Lilly Rogers is one proud grandmother — she travelled more than 2,000km from Perth to Broome to see 13 of her granddaughters and nieces play in an AFL grand final. The grand final marked the end of the first year of the women's West Kimberley Football League. And with just four teams, the small local competition may not seem significant, but for many women in the Kimberley it has been transformative. 

In December 2007, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to a partnership between all levels of government to work with Indigenous communities to achieve the target of Closing the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage.

On the 13 February 2008 the Australian Parliament unanimously passed an apology directed to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generations. The speech was delivered by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The COAG National Indigenous Reform Agreement  (PDF  - 2.2 MB), agreed in November 2008, set out the objectives, outcomes, outputs, performance indicators, and performance benchmarks agreed by COAG. It also provides links to National Agreements and National Partnership agreements across COAG which include elements aimed at Closing the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage. The six agreed targets were:

  • to close the life expectancy gap within a generation;
  • to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade;
  • to ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous four year olds in remote communities within five years;
  • to halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children within a decade;
  • to halve the gap for Indigenous students in year 12 attainment rates by 2020; and
  • to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade. 

In his ‘Closing the Gap’ speech to the Australian Parliament on 26 February 2009, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd highlighted the need for partnerships across all sectors of the Australian community, including sport:

And that is our fourth pillar: the building of partnerships across all sectors of the Australian community to help to close the gap. Where the wider community – including business, the education sector, sporting groups and the community sector at large – become partners in bringing about measurable change in Indigenous communities and Indigenous lives.26th Prime Minister of Australia, 2007 to 2010, the Honourable Kevin Rudd, 26 February 2009

Measuring Progress

An annual report is published to track the progress of the Close the Gap targets:

  • Closing the Gap - The Prime Minister's Report 2017. This ninth Closing the Gap report showcases real successes being achieved at a local level across the country—by individuals, communities, organisations and government. However, at a national level, progress needs to accelerate. Over the long term there are improvements across a number of the targets, however these improvements are not enough to meet the majority of the outcomes set by COAG.

The Federal Government is continuing to focus on reform of Indigenous affairs and the positive impact that this will have on the Closing the Gap targets. There is a strong emphasis on practical actions to get children into school, adults into work, make communities safer, and advancing constitutional recognition.

  • Closing the Gap Clearinghouse. An Australian Government, web based Clearinghouse for research and evaluation of evidence on what works to overcome Indigenous disadvantage.
  • Do physical activity interventions in Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand improve activity levels and health outcomes? A systematic review. Ashleigh Sushames, Jannique G.Z. van Uffelen and Klaus Gebel, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, (December 2016). Indigenous Australians and New Zealanders have a significantly shorter life expectancy than non-Indigenous people, mainly due to differences in prevalence of chronic diseases. Physical activity helps in the prevention and management of chronic diseases, however, activity levels are lower in Indigenous than in non-Indigenous.
  • Sport’s important role in helping to Close the Gap. Dr Paul Oliver, Oliver & Thompson Consultancy, LinkedIn, (19 February 2016). The release last week of the annual Close the Gap report by the Prime Minister in Parliament raised the usual questions around the effectiveness and genuine commitment of government to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage in Australia. As in previous years, the aspirations have not been matched by progress in many key areas, meaning targets on health, education, and employment remain a mirage of hope rather than close attainable goals.

Productivity Commission (COAG)

The Productivity Commission is the Australian Government's independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, social, and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians. In April 2002, the COAG commissioned the Steering Committee to produce a regular report against key indicators of Indigenous disadvantage, 'Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage'. Its objective is to inform Australian governments about whether policies and programs are achieving positive outcomes for Indigenous people.

The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report measures the wellbeing of Australia's Indigenous peoples. The report provides information about outcomes across a range of strategic areas such as early child development, education and training, healthy lives, economic participation, home environment, and safe and supportive communities. The report examines whether policies and programs are achieving positive outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report 2016 (November 2016) report indicates mixed results in many target areas: 

  • Improvements were recorded in: mortality rates for children; education increases in the proportion of 20–24 year olds completing year 12 or above and the proportion of 20–64 year olds with or working towards post-school qualifications; the proportion of adults whose main income was from employment and increasing household incomes; and the proportion of adults that recognised traditional lands.
  • Little or no change was seen in: rates of family and community violence; risky long-term alcohol use; and the proportions of people learning and speaking Indigenous languages.
  • Outcomes have worsened in: the proportion of adults reporting high levels of psychological distress and hospitalisations for self-harm; the proportion of adults reporting substance misuse in the previous 12 months; and the adult imprisonment rate. While the juvenile detention rate did decrease it was still 24 times the rate for non-Indigenous youth.  

The following is a non-exhaustive list of current and past Australian Government programs and resources relevant to the Indigenous sport policy and service delivery environment. 

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has primary responsibility for Indigenous affairs and most Commonwealth Indigenous-specific policy and programs. The Department works with other Commonwealth departments, state and territory governments, Indigenous communities and organisations, and peak bodies to achieve the government’s priorities of: promoting safety and well-being; reducing violence and substance use in communities; and restoring social norms including participating in school and work, and obeying the law.

The Australian Government's Indigenous Advancement Strategy consolidates the many different Indigenous policies and programmes that were delivered by Government into five overarching programmes, making it easier for organisations delivering local services. The new programme streams are:
  • Jobs, Land and Economy
  • Children and Schooling
  • Safety and Wellbeing
  • Culture and Capability
  • Remote Australia Strategies
The website is designed to connect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with Australian Government policies and programs and raise awareness about the initiatives that affect Indigenous Australians most. The site shares stories from individuals, communities and organisations across Australia, telling real stories about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the challenges and opportunities facing them, and the successes and achievements being demonstrated every day.

Department of Health

The Department of Health takes a whole of government approach to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health information. The Department's website contains information from mainstream areas of the Department as well as from the Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH).
  • Review of physical activity among Indigenous people. Gray C, Macniven R, Thomson N, Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, (2013). This review of physical activity among Indigenous Australians has been prepared by the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet as a part of our contributions to ‘closing the gap’ in health between Indigenous people and other Australians by making relevant, high quality knowledge and information easily accessible to policy makers, health service providers, program managers, clinicians, researchers and the general community

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is the national agency established to provide information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare. The AIHW hosts the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse which is managed in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

It provides access to a collection of quality-assessed information on what works to overcome Indigenous disadvantage. The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse provides policy-makers and program-managers with an evidence base for achieving the Closing the Gap targets and related Indigenous reforms.

Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission)

Following the release of the Australian Sport: the pathway to success report in 2010, Sport Australia revised its approach to Indigenous sport program development and delivery. Sport Australia funds and supports national sporting organisations (NSOs) to coordinate and deliver sport participation and development programs to increase the participation and quality of sport for all. Current practice reflects the move from a targeted programs approach to a more inclusive approach to developing sporting opportunities for under-represented population groups including Indigenous Australians. 

  • Yulunga: Traditional Indigenous Games. An activity resource of over 100 traditional Indigenous games created to provide all Australians with an opportunity to learn about, appreciate, and experience aspects of Indigenous culture.
  • Indigenous Sport Program – Evaluation Report (PDF  - 785.0 KB), Small Candle Consulting, (August 2009). The Australian Sports Commission (now Sport Australia) managed and administered the Indigenous Sport Program (ISP), in financial partnership with other Commonwealth agencies, State and Territory Departments of Sport and Recreation (SDSR), and the mainstream sporting industry from 1993 until 2011.This evaluation sought to identify: the effectiveness of existing ISP partnerships with SDSR and the mainstream sporting industry; where sport for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples best fitted broader Australian Government policy agenda; and any improvements to the program for more effective service delivery and improved outcomes. 
  • Reconciliation Action Plan [Respect], Australian Sports Commission, (2018). Sport Australia wishes to commit to creating positive and lasting change to reduce inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.The first stage of the RAP process ‘Reflect’ is being managed by the Heritage and Culture Committee (HACC) with the aim to create a RAP Working Group of representative staff who will undertake all future RAP processes and manage the associated actions. The RAP Champion will be Kate Palmer (Chief Executive Officer).
  • Reconciliation Action Plan February 2019 - February 2020 [Reflect]. (PDF  - 7.5 MB). Sport Australia wishes to commit to creating positive and lasting change to reduce inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. We wish to commit to the Australian Government’s goal to make significant and measurable improvements in the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and understand that sport plays an important role in achieving this goal. The RAP process is managed by the Sport Australia RAP Working Group comprising of representative staff across the agency Chaired by Andrew J Larratt (Executive General Manager Sport Business). The RAP Champion is Kate Palmer (Chief Executive Officer of Sport Australia).

National Rugby League

  • School To Work Program. The NRL and Federal Governmen School To Work Program (S2W) provides young Indigenous Australians with work experience, mentoring and leadership opportunities to ensure they successfully complete school and transition into further study, training, or meaningful employment.. 

Former Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

The Sporting Chance Program - was an Australian Government initiative that started operations in secondary schools and colleges in 2007. The objective of the Sporting Chance Program was to encourage improved educational outcomes for Indigenous students (boys and girls) using sport and recreation.

  • Evaluation of the Sporting Chance ProgramAustralian Council for Education Research (2012). This review found that overall, the DEEWR Sporting Chance Program, despite some limitations, achieved what it has set out to do – that is to encourage improved educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
  • Performance Audit of The Sporting Chance Program. Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, (July 2012). The objective of the performance audit was to assess the performance of academies funded under the Sporting Chance Program and DEEWR’s management of the program. The audit did not assess the performance of the program’s education engagement strategies component as this did not commence until 2008.
  • Learn Earn Legend! Was the former Australian Government’s message to young Indigenous Australians and their role models. The Learn Earn Legend! message encouraged and supported young Indigenous Australians to stay at school, get a job and be a legend for themselves, their family and their community.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of Australian State and Territory Government programs and services with a focus on developing Indigenous Sport.

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

Active Canberra facilitates a number of Indigenous sport and related social inclusion programs to the ACT sport and recreation industry.

The program aims to:

  • Encourage Indigenous people to be more active and to play sport at all levels.
  • Increase opportunities for Indigenous people to learn the skills needed to organise, deliver and manage community-based sport.
  • Assist talented Indigenous sports people to access the support they need to reach their sporting goals.

The Program works in partnership with sporting organisations and community organisations to ensure that programs are developed to suit the needs of Indigenous people and their families in the ACT.

New South Wales (NSW)

Office of Sport. The Office of Sport assists the people of NSW to participate in sport and recreation. Their vision is of a community that uses sport and recreation to improve its well-being.

The NSW Indigenous Sport Program assists communities and local sporting organisations to become self-sustaining by building their governance capacity and facilitating greater participation in structured sport, clubs and competitions. The network includes a state based Project Officer and Aboriginal Sport Development Officers located in Lennox Head, Tamworth, Orange, Dubbo, Wollongong, Wagga Wagga, Sydney and Newcastle/Central Coast.

The team works with Government and NGOs to provide training and access to development opportunities as well as important health and wellbeing messages to the community around the benefits of participating in sport and recreation activities. 

Northern Territory (NT)

Sport & Recreation. Invests in and supports the development of the sport and active recreation sectors in the Northern Territory. It also represents the Territory’s interests in policy and decision making forums regarding national sporting development and delivery.

  • Gone Too Soon: A Report into Youth Suicide in the Northern Territory. NT Select Committee on Youth Suicides in the NT, (March 2012). This report highlights a broad range of issues and factors that influence the high rate of suicide in the Northern Territory. The report demonstrates that sport in conjunction with a number of other interventions can be utilised as an effective tool in reducing the number of youth suicides.

Queensland (QLD)

QLD Sport and Recreation. Facilitates a number of programs and funding initiatives in the inclusion and physical activity space.

South Australia (SA)

The Office for Recreation and Sport. Through a number of integrated government initiatives, facilitates a range of programs and funding opportunities in the inclusion and physical activity space.

Tasmania (TAS)

Sport and Recreation Tasmania. The Aboriginal Sport and Recreation (ASR) team provide support to Aboriginal community organisations and sport, recreation and physical activity providers in order to facilitate opportunities to participate. This is done by providing:
  • Assistance in identifying and developing partnerships between Aboriginal community organisations and sport and physical activity providers
  • Assistance in developing relevant programs

Victoria (VIC)

Sport and Recreation. Facilitates a number of Inclusive Sport programs. The program aims to:

  • increase awareness within the sport and recreation industry of ways that it can be more inclusive of Indigenous people;
  • increase access to sport and recreation opportunities by working with indigenous communities;
  • increase the involvement of indigenous people in the sport and recreation industry; and
  • facilitate links between sport and recreation organisations, indigenous communities and other relevant agencies.

VicHealth. VicHealth receives core funding from the Department of Health to deliver its objectives as outlined in the Tobacco Act 1987. Additionally, VicHealth periodically receives special funding from various Government agencies to deliver specific programs.

  • Everyone Wins – Community sporting clubs. VicHealth, (2011). This toolkit specifically aims to help clubs increase the involvement of women and girls, Aboriginal people and people from culturally diverse communities. It provides practical tools and resources to help Victorian community sports clubs become more inclusive and welcoming of everyone in their community.

Western Australia (WA)

Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. The Department recognises the value of sport and recreation to the Indigenous community and is committed to increasing participation in physical activity and building community capacity.

Over the past decade a number of sporting organisations have developed programs specifically targeting indigenous populations. These programs have often been in partnership with Australian and/or State and Territory governments and linked to Closing the Gap targets. The Australian Football League (AFL), in particular, has been very successful in transitioning players from development programs into its elite competitions.

  • Australian Football League (AFL). The Indigenous population makes up approximately two and a half percent of the total Australian population; from this, 90,000 participants are involved with AFL programs around the country. Indigenous Players make up 9% of the AFL player list.
    • SportsReady. AFL SportsReady’s reconciliation journey started more than a decade ago. The organisation works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to develop sustainable employment pathways. It believes that education and employment are vital for people to participate fully in society.
  • Australian Rugby Union (ARU). The ARU supports initiatives to increase the exposure of Rugby to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Rugby Union has a number of elite Indigenous athletes involved in the game and a number of programs to assist with the development of Indigenous involvement.
  • Cricket Australia (CA). Cricket Australia has a long and proud involvement in Indigenous sport starting with the selection of the First XI in 1868 through to today with the national Imparja Cup.
  • Football Federation Australia (FFA). The FFA launched their Indigenous Football Development Strategy in April 2012. The strategy aims to build on successful initiatives of recent years, ensuring that football is accessible and enjoyable for all Australians. A key focus of this commitment is to work with the football community on supporting associations and clubs to be able to cater for Indigenous Australians to participate in football.
  • National Rugby League (NRL) One Community Indigenous Programs. The National Rugby League’s work in the Indigenous communities is first and foremost dedicated to closing the gap and helping to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians.
  • Queensland Reds - Indigenous Program Strategy (QRIP). QRIP was developed with a charter ’to support and encourage young Indigenous Queenslanders to stay in school, seek employment and further training and as a result become a leader within their community’.
  • Softball Australia. Softball is a popular sport in Indigenous communities particularly for women and girls. Through the state softball organisations, competitions and programs are developed for Indigenous communities.
  • Tennis - Australia's Indigenous tennis coach empowers youth on search for next superstar, Mark Rigby, ABC Far North, (19 May 2016). Australia's first Indigenous male tennis player to play on centre court at Wimbledon is travelling the country to promote tennis to Indigenous youth.

Australian Olympic Committee (AOC)

In May 2015 members at the AOC Annual General Meeting unanimously voted to amend the AOC Constitution to recognise Australia’s first people, as first recommend by AOC President John Coates in November 2014.  

The new passage in the AOC Constitution reads:

To recognise the heritage, culture and contribution of our nation’s first people, and to give practical support to indigenous reconciliation through sport.

Additionally, the wording of the Team values—developed by the AOC Athletes’ Commission—were also amended, specifically the RESPECT value:

RESPECT - I respect sport, the efforts of my competitors, my team mates and officials. I respect Australia and its indigenous heritage. I respect our nation’s past and the spirit of Olympism.

Many organisations and government departments in Australia, including NSOs and professional sporting clubs, have also developed Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs). RAPs are business plans that clearly delineate what actions an organisation is going to implement in order to create opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and contribute to the reconciliation process in Australia. There are four different types of RAP with the program: Reflect; Innovate; Stretch; and Elevate. More information on the RAP program is available from Reconciliation Australia.  

  • Cathy Freeman Foundation. The Cathy Freeman Foundation was established by Olympic champion, Cathy Freeman, to give Australian Indigenous children a brighter future through education. Underpinning the work of the Foundation is the desire to bridge the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, ensuring they all share a strong sense of self-belief and access to opportunities in life.
  • David Wirrpanda Foundation. Founded in 2005, the David Wirrpanda Foundation exists to improve the life outcomes of Indigenous children by promoting strong role models and healthy life choices.
  • Go Foundation. Indigenous AFL players Adam Goodes and Michael O'Loughlin created the The GO Foundation to provide Indigenous children with scholarships to quality schools, and to meet expenses for students attending these schools. It believes that education is the single most important factor in Indigenous Australians achieving a brighter future. Education is the cornerstone of a healthy, happy and productive life, and its benefits are immeasurable.
  • Indigenous Marathon Project. This is an initiative,which uses training for the New York Marathon as a vehicle for promoting healthy and active lifestyles throughout Australian Indigenous communities. This project aims to create indigenous role models, inspire Indigenous people, and reduce the incidence of disease of Indigenous men and women.
  • Indigenous Sport Queensland. Indigenous Sport Queensland is a non-profit incorporated association that aims to promote and advocate Indigenous sport in Queensland. Established formally in 2007, ISQ’s mission is to enhance the development of Indigenous sport in Queensland by working to promote and sustain interest in the development of organised Indigenous sport in the State.
  • National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (NASCA). NASCA aims to create a more equitable playing field. NASCA’s activities are aligned to the Australian Government’s ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy. The organisation initially focused on sport as a vehicle to achieve their aims as it reflects a number of values held in high esteem in the community, such as fair play, teamwork, cooperation, and inclusion. Sport also focuses on what’s possible to achieve while showcasing people’s capabilities, rather than dwelling on the negatives. 
  • National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE). In relation to sport and recreation programs NCIE cultivates talent, develops physical intelligence, and puts sport and recreation into a wider context through various individual and team activities, training and development programs.
  • Harmony in Cricket. With funding and support from VicHealth, Cricket Victoria developed its Harmony in Cricket Program to encourage Indigenous peoples to play cricket. This program has contributed to a 39% growth in the number of people playing cricket for the first time and a 5% increase in grass roots club cricket participants
  • South Australian Aboriginal Sports Training Academy (SAASTA). At SAASTA the aim is to encourage every student to aim high by raising the bar of expectation they place on themselves and their peers in areas such as attendance, participation, educational achievement, and behaviour. Because of this approach our students are considered ambassadors and role models who represent not only SAASTA but their schools, families, and communities.

High profile indigenous athletes are used as role models by several Australian organisations and programs to promote positive health and lifestyle messages. Most Australian professional sports clubs require their athletes to attend sports camps, schools, hospitals, and other community programs.

Programs that utilise athletes include:

  • Racism: It Stops with Me. The national Australian Human Rights Commission and Play by the Rules campaign to raise awareness of racism in society has used high profile sportsmen and women such as Adam Goodes to promote key messages through multiple media channels.
  • Red Dust. A health promotion organisation that delivers innovative health promotion programs in partnership with remote communities. The Red Dust Role Models come from a variety of disciplines, including Sport, Art and Music, but are also recognised for their mentoring and teaching capabilities.
  • Role Models and Leaders Australia. RMLA provides leadership, sports and education programs to assist Australian youth, particularly Indigenous youth, who suffer from poverty, sickness, misfortune, or a disconnectedness from their community.
  • Roosters Against Racism. Roosters Against Racism raises awareness of the importance of mutual respect and fair treatment of all people regardless of their cultural, racial, or religious backgrounds. It also promotes the benefits of cultural diversity and social cohesion. The program is supported by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Play By The Rules, Community Migrant Resource Centre and Left-field Business Solutions. It involves a number of high profile players visiting local schools
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Sports Coaching Forum, Sports Unlimited, (May 2016). In May 2016, Western Sydney University held a forum that explored factors that have influenced sport participation and sport-coaching roles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Facilitated by Dr Andrew Bennie, Director of the Health and Physical Education Program, the forum included an interactive panel discussion featuring five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sport coaches from community and high performance sport settings. Expanding on conversations with researchers from Western Sydney University's School of Science and Health in 2015, the forum brought to the fore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives about facilitators and barriers to coaching pathways. In doing so, the forum aimed to collaboratively produce initial recommendations that may enhance opportunities in sport coaching roles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Australian of the Year  

A number of elite indigenous athletes have been recognised for their service to sport and the community through Australian of the Year award recognition. These include:

  • Adam Goodes 2014 (Australian of the Year)
  • Cathy Freeman 1998 (Australian of the Year); 1990 (Young Australian of the Year) 
  • Nova Peris 1997 (Young Australian of the Year)
  • Mark Ella 1982 (Young Australian of the Year)
  • Evonne Goolagong-Cawley 1971 (Australian of the Year)
  • Lionel Rose 1968 (Australian of the Year)


The annual NAIDOC Awards, presented at the end of NAIDOC week, recognise the outstanding contributions made by Indigenous Australians to improve the lives of Indigenous people in their communities and beyond, to promote Indigenous issues in the wider community, and demonstrated excellence shown in their chosen field. The awards recognise both a Person of the Year and Sportsperson of the Year as well various other categories. Patty Mills has won both the Sportsperson of the year award (2006) and Person of the Year award (2017). Other winners include: 

Sportsperson of the Year 

Recent winners of the award have included: Amanda Reid (Para-cycling); Jade North (Football); Ryan Morich (wheelchair basketball); Jesse Williams (American Football); Jonathan Thurston (Rugby League); Vanessa Wilson (Netball);  Joshua Robinson (Athletics/Rugby League); Preston Campbell (Rugby League); Rohanee Cox (Basketball); Andrew McLeod (Australian Football); Stacey Porter (Softball); Robert Crowther (Athletics); and Patty Mills (Basketball). 

Person of the Year

  • Patty Mills (Basketball, 2017)
  • David Wirrpanda (AFL, 2012)
  • Anthony Mundine (Boxing, 2000)

More information regarding role models can be found in the Clearinghouse Role Models and Sport portfolio. 


  • Aboriginal Children's Sport Participation in Canada (PDF  - 183 KB). Statistics Canada, (2001). Physical activity can be viewed as a proactive health promotion strategy in terms of the relative benefits incurred for both physical and mental health. The purpose of this paper was to examine sport participation as one aspect of physical activity for Aboriginal children and to provide a comparison of Aboriginal children in Canada who do and do not participate in sport outside of school.
  • Aboriginal Long-Term Participant Development Pathway 1.0 (PDF  - 982 KB). Sport For Life, (22 February 2016). The purpose of the Aboriginal Long-Term Participant Development Pathway is to increase the percentage of Aboriginal children who become physically literate, define a pathway for Aboriginal athletes into high performance sport and to increase the number of Aboriginal people who are active for life.
  • Aboriginal Participation in Sport : Critical Issues of Race, Culture and Power (PDF  - 479 KB). Daniel Henhawk, University of Waterloo, (2009). This study is a qualitative examination of the authors lived experiences and the lived experiences of his immediate family in sport. The purpose of this project was to explore issues of race, culture and power within our lived sport experiences and to present these experiences in such way so as to unpack the tensions associated with being an Aboriginal person living in today’s Canadian society.
  • Barriers to physical activity for Canadian Aboriginal Youth (PDF  - 177 KB). Courtney Mason, Joshua Koehli, Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, (2012). This paper investigates barriers to physical activity, sport, and exercise for Aboriginal youth in the province of Alberta. Focusing on the experiences of Aboriginal youth, this analysis considers the common structural, institutional, intrapersonal, and cultural constraints that many participants encountered.
  • Challenges and strategies for success of a sport-for-development programme for First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth. Halsall, T., Forneris, T., Journal of Sport for Development, (November 2016). Canadian policy related to colonialism has created substantial challenges for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) youth and has had a negative influence on their health and well-being. Sport-for-development (SfD) programmes are beginning to show positive impacts for children and youth internationally. This approach may also be beneficial for FNMI youth in Canada. This research evaluates the implementation of a SfD programme designed to enhance leadership skills for FNMI youth.
  • Community-Based Sport Research with Indigenous Youth (PDF  - 241 KB). McHugh, Tara-Leigh F.; Holt, Nicholas L.; Andersen, Chris, New Trends in Physical Education, Sport and Recreation, (2015). Research has identified the many positive associations of sport participation for youth. In studying Indigenous Canadians, sport and physical activity has been suggested as a way to address the many health, mental, spiritual and social challenges of the large youth Indigenous population.
  • Historical Overview of Government Involvement in Aboriginal Sport and Recreation (PDF  - 477 KB). Chris Szabo, (November 2011). As noted in Sport Canada's 2005 "Policy on Aboriginal Peoples" participation in games, play and more recently, sport, have always played an important role in Aboriginal cultures. Many sports and games related to survival and the holistic development of individuals, families and communities, and they centred on important principles within their belief systems and cultural values. The holistic approach of Aboriginal peoples emphasizes the development of the whole person, balancing the physical, mental, emotional, cultural and spiritual aspects of life.
  • "Sport is community": Urban Indigenous peoples' meanings of community within sport. Tara-Leigh F. McHugh and Nora Johnston, Alberta Centre for Active Living, (December 2016). Sport and community are often interconnected, yet little is understood about community within the context of sport for Indigenous youth. Understanding community is important to be able to enhance sport opportunities for Indigenous youth. A study was undertaken with Edmonton-based Indigenous youth and adults to examine the meaning of community within the context of sport.


  • The social value of sport. Sport Industry Research Center, Sheffield Hallam University, (May 2016). Participation in sport in England generates social value of over £44 billion according to research by Sheffield Hallam University. The study, which is the first of its kind, looks at the Social Return on Investment (SROI) of sport and the impact it has on improving health and educational attainment, reducing crime and enhancing participants' life satisfaction. Read the Summary Report.  


  • State sport policy for indigenous sport: inclusive ambitions and exclusive coalitions. Josef Fahlen and Eivind Asrum Skille, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, (25 November 2016). With the policy aim ‘Sport for all’ as a backdrop, this paper investigates sport policies for Sami sport in Sweden and Norway (the Sami is the indigenous people residing in the northern parts of Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden). By applying an Advocacy Coalition Framework, the purpose of the paper is to explore how the organisation of and possibilities to exercise Sami sport are affected by political coalitions, social structures and institutions.

New Zealand

  • Inter-iwi sport can strengthen cultural identity for urban Māori. Mato, Wiremu Tekehukehu, AUT University, (2011), Inter-hapū (inter-subtribe) Māori (indigenous peoples of New Zealand) sports events, usually held within rural regions, attracts affiliates from all around Aotearoa/New Zealand for a chance to represent their hapū. Anecdotal feedback suggests that these types of events can strengthen cultural or iwi (tribal) identity.
  • Links between Maori cultural well-being and participation in sports: A literature review. Paul Moon, The e-Journal on Indigenous Pacific Issues, Vol. 5, No. 1, (2012). This literature review explores various dimensions of the relationship between participation by Maori in sports, the creation and maintenance of sustainable cultural infrastructures, and the contribution of these elements to an enhanced sense and practice of cultural identity.  This is achieved through undertaking a qualitative survey of the present domestic literature on the topic, as well as drawing on the more extensive corpus of international research which addresses these types of topics, themes, and links. 
  • Ngai Tahu’s Aoraki Bound. Personal/professional development through culturally-based outdoor experience. Aoraki Bound combines Ngāi Tahu cultural knowledge and expertise with the experience and reputation of Outward Bound in a journey from Anakiwa at the top of Te Waipounamu to the feet of Aoraki. Te Rūnanga recognises cultural revitalisation is crucial to the future sustainability and development of Ngāi Tahu as individuals and as a collective. We have a genuine desire to share our knowledge and values and a strength of the course is that it is not just for Ngāi Tahu, but for all New Zealanders

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

Coaching & Leadership

  • Coaching Indigenous athletesAustralian Sports Commission, (2010). Outlines cultural sensitivities and topics that will help coaches communicate better with Indigenous athletes and players.
  • Coaching Indigenous players (PDF  - 1.0 MB). B. Collins, AFL Record, (Jul 31-Aug 2 2009). AFL coach Mark Williams gives six tips for coaching Aboriginal players successfully
  • Noble athlete, savage coach: How racialised representations of Aboriginal athletes impede professional sport coaching opportunities for Aboriginal Australians, Nicholas Apoifis, Demelza Marlin and Andrew Bennie, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, (2017). Representations of Aboriginal Australian peoples as genetically predisposed to sporting prowess are pervasive and enduring perceptions. This rhetoric belongs to a larger narrative that also describes a peculiarly Aboriginal style of play: full of flair, speed and ‘magic’. Such imagery has informed a common perception that, in many team sports, Aboriginal athletes are biologically more suited to playing positions characterised by pace, trickery and spontaneity, rather than those that utilise leadership acumen and intellectual skill. There has been a great deal of academic research exploring how such essentialised and racialised representations play out for Aboriginal athletes. In this paper, however, we extend that research, examining how racialised representations of Aboriginal athletic ability affect Aboriginal coaches. Premised on interviews with 26 Aboriginal Australian coaches, we argue that representations of Aboriginal athletes as naturally suited to speed and flair, rather than leadership and sporting-intellect, help maintain an environment that limits opportunities for Aboriginal Australians seeking to move into sporting leadership roles, such as coaching.
  • Why are so few professional sport coaches from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities? Andrew Bennie, Demelza Marlin and Nicholas Apoifis, The Conversation, (13 June 2016). Every year, sporting organisations in Australia receive government funding for Indigenous programming and development. The funding is justified by the widely held assumption that involvement in sport has positive social impacts. 


  • Constructing health and physical education curriculum for indigenous girls in a remote Australian community. Whatman, Susan L.; Singh, Parlo, Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, Vol. 20 Issue 2, (March 2015). Over the last 20 years, curriculum development in Health and Physical Education (HPE) (or Physical Education, Physical Education and Health, Sport Education as it is variously called) has repeatedly attempted to address issues of equity and social inclusion. Why then does systemic educational disadvantage persist, and why do the poorest members of society acquire less privileged and privileging forms of HPE knowledge, skills and bodily dispositions? What constitutes relevant and responsive HPE curriculum for which groups of students remains a site of considerable contestation. 
  • Does it pay to go to school? The benefits of and participation in education of Indigenous Australians [thesis]. Biddle, Nicholas, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University (2007). Those who have finished high school and/or obtained non-school qualifications experience a range of positive outcomes throughout their lives. Despite these benefits being likely to apply to the Indigenous Australian population, current as well as past participation in education is substantially lower than that of the non-Indigenous population.
  • Education and Indigenous Wellbeing. Catalogue Number 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, Australian Bureau of Statistics, (March 2011). Educational attainment has long been recognised as being correlated with a range of indicators of social wellbeing. As a result of this, education has been a major focus in the strategy to ‘close the gap’ between the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous populations.
  • Indigenous Austalians and physical activity: using a social–ecological model to review the literature. Nelson A et. al., Health Education Research, Volume 25, Issue 3, (2010). This paper aims to present what is currently known about Indigenous Australians and their engagement in physical activity and to then challenge some of the ‘taken-for-granted’ ways of thinking about promoting or researching physical activity with Indigenous Australians. Major health, education and sport databases, as well as government websites were searched using the key terms of physical activity, sport, leisure, recreation, Indigenous and Aboriginal/Aborigine.
  • Lords of the Square Ring: Future Capital and Career Transition Issues for Elite Indigenous Australian Boxers. Megan Marie Stronach, Daryl Adair, Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, (2010). In Australia a serious and widely documented statistical gap exists between the socio-economic circumstances of the country’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Areas of divergence include life expectancy, health, housing, income, and educational opportunity and employment. This has made career attainment problematic for most Aboriginal people.
  • Sport, Educational Engagement and Positive Youth Development: Reflections of Aboriginal Former Youth Sports Participants. Fitch, N., Ma'ayah, F., Harms, C., & Guilfoyle, A. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, Volume 46 (1), pp.23-33, (2017). The purpose of the current research was to investigate how participation in sports impacted on the educational engagement, aspirations and development of Aboriginal former youth sports participants. Interpretive phenomenological analysis of semistructured interviews with six participants was conducted. For these participants, involvement in youth sport had clear educational and developmental benefits. It is concluded that youth sports participation is one developmental context with the potential to have a positive influence on the educational and developmental trajectory of Aboriginal youth.


  • Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework, 2012 Report (PDF  - 6.4 MB). Australian Government, Department of Health and Ageing (2012). Relevant sections of this report include: Section 2.18, physical activity; and Section 2.22, overweight and obesity.
  • Aborigines, sport and suicide, Colin Tatz, Taylor Francis Online (October 2012). It is surprising that a nation so dedicated to sport has ignored its role in trying to alleviate youth suicide. Involvement in sport has shown to deflect, even deter, juvenile delinquency. Similarly, there is evidence (and reason) enough to show a strong connection between sport and suicide among the young. Sport is a major element in contemporary Aboriginal life: it provides meaning, a sense of purpose and belonging; it is inclusive and embracing in a world where most Aboriginal youth feel alienated, disempowered, rejected and excluded.
  • Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: Physical activity 2012-13. Catalogue Number 4727.0.55.004, Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2014). This ABS survey looked at the level of physical activity and sedentary activity of pre-school children age 2 to 4 years; children and young people age 5 to 17 years and; adults 18 years and older. 
  • Australian Indigenous youth's participation in sport and associated health outcomes: Empirical analysis and implications (PDF  - 177 KB). Dalton B, Wilson R, Evans J and Cochrane S, Sport Management Review, Volume 18, Issue 1 (2015). Analysis of the 2012 Mission Australia Youth Survey (MAYS) finds that among Indigenous youth aged 15–19 years there is a positive relationship between self-reported participation in sport and two health outcomes – rating of overall health and risk of mental health disorder. Indigenous youth who participate in sport are 3.5 times more likely to report good general health and 1.6 times more likely to have no probable serious mental illness. The significance of these findings may address the current gaps in preventive health service delivery to Indigenous communities, and for the development of grassroots, evidence-based, well resourced, culturally sensitive, inclusive and community-led programs.
  • Investigating Indicators for Measuring the Health and Social Impact of Sport and Recreation Programs in Indigenous Communities (PDF  - 1.2 MB). Mary Beneforti, Joan Cunnigham, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal and Tropical Health, (2005).
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health plan 2013–2023 (PDF  - 16.7 MB). Commonwealth of Australia, (July 2013). This health plan provides a long-term, evidence-based policy framework as part of the overarching Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) approach to Closing the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage, which has been set out in the National Indigenous Reform Agreement.
  • Supporting healthy communities through sports and recreation programs (PDF  - 1.4 MB). Resource sheet no. 26 produced for the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse, Vicki-Ann Ware and Veronica Meredith, (December 2013). There is some evidence, in the form of critical descriptions of programs and systematic reviews, on the benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from participation in sport and recreational programs. These include some improvements in school retention, attitudes towards learning, social and cognitive skills, physical and mental health and wellbeing; increased social inclusion and cohesion; increased validation of and connection to culture; and crime reduction.
  • Review of physical activity among Indigenous people (PDF   - 1.0 MB). Gray C, Macniven R and Thomson N, Australian Indigenous Health Reviews, Number 13 (2013). For some Indigenous people, concepts of space, time and activities differ from those for most non-Indigenous people. Therefore, physical activity guidelines that specify regular frequency, duration and types of activity can be inappropriate for some Indigenous people. Culturally inclusive ways of incorporating physical activity (such as caring for country, and offering culturally inclusive school activities) developed in consultation with Indigenous communities could be more relevant and have increased likelihood of success as a preventive health measure. It is important to note that some components of the Indigenous population are relatively transient, which also makes regular and sustainable participation in programs more difficult. Many complex factors contribute to the high levels of physical inactivity and the associated chronic disease burden among Indigenous people.
  • A 12-week sports-based exercise programme for inactive Indigenous Australian men improved clinical risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Mendham AE, Duffield R, Marino F, Coutts AJ, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (2014). This study assessed the effect of a 12-week sports-based exercise intervention on glucose regulation, anthropometry and inflammatory markers associated with the prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) in Indigenous Australian men.


  • A snapshot of physical activity programs targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia (PDF  - 1 MB), Rona Macniven, Michelle Elwell, Kathy Ride, Adrian Bauman and Justin Richards, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, Volume 28, pp.185-206, (2017). A total of 110 programs were identified across urban, rural and remote locations within all states and territories. Only 11 programs were located through bibliographic sources; the remainder through Internet searches. The programs aimed to influence physical activity for health or broader social outcomes. Sixty five took place in community settings and most involved multiple sectors such as sport, health and education. Almost all were free for participants and involved Indigenous stakeholders. The majority received Government funding and had commenced within the last decade. More than 20 programs reached over 1000 people each; 14 reached 0–100 participants. Most included process or impact evaluation indicators, typically reflecting their aims. 
  • After the Siren: The community benefits of Indigenous participation in Australia Rules Football. Michael Dockery & Sean Gorman, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, (September 2017). This BCEC Feature report aims to build on the narrative of Indigenous peoples’ participation in football at a grass-roots level, and the associated individual and community level outcomes. It is based on analyses of data from the 2014-2015 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), supplemented by interviews with a number of stakeholders in West Australian communities. The evidence provides a very strong social-benefit case for greater investment in structured AFL competitions in remote communities. 
  • Indigenous Australians’ participation in sports and physical activities: Part 1, Literature and AusPlay data review, ORC International prepared for the Australian Sports Commission, (May 2017). To inform the Australian Sport Commission (ASC)’s development of policy on sport delivery to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the ASC commissioned ORC International to conduct a research project on Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’s participation in sport and physical activities. The project was conducted in two parts: a data and literature review, followed by a qualitative research phase. This report summarises the methodology and findings from the first stage of the project, the data and literature review. 
  • Indigenous Study Part 2 - Qualitative researchORC International prepared for the Australian Sports Commission, (March 2018). The research affirms the central role of sport and physical activity within Indigenous communities and the importance of sporting clubs and organisations to facilitate these opportunities. Increasing participation and overcoming barriers to sports and physical activities, for both adults and children was a priority amongst Indigenous people. Recommendations include ensuring that programs are culturally inclusive and respectful of Indigenous people, reducing costs, and increasing opportunities which are available within remote and some regional areas. 
  • Participation in sport by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and those from CALD backgrounds, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, (2007). This section of What’s the Score? provides a summary of reports, census’, surveys and publications related to the level of participation in sport by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds (CALD). 
  • Physical activity among indigenous Australian children and youth in remote and non-remote areas, John Robert Evans, Rachel Wilson, Clare Coleman, Wing Young Nicola Man, Tim Olds, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 206, pp.93-99, (June 2018). Drawing on national survey data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, this study examined levels of PA in the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey 2012-13. It also examined the relationship between PA and participation in education and self-reported health among 15–17 year olds. Overall, participation rates appear to be high, with 64–84% of youth reporting at least 60 min of PA on the previous day. A gender gap was evident, with lower levels of activity among girls. PA decreased with age, particularly at or around the age of puberty. There were no significant associations between PA and either self-reported health or engagement in study. There was a relationship between high PA and low area-level socio-economic status in remote areas, but no association in non-remote areas. 
  • Sistas’ and Aunties: sport, physical activity, and Indigenous Australian women. Stronach, Megan, Maxwell, Hazel and Taylor, Tracy, Annals of Leisure Research, April 2016, Vol. 19 Issue 1. Indigenous women have alarmingly low rates of participation in organized sport and physical activity (PA) in contemporary Australian society. To gain a better contextual and cultural understanding of the issues involved, we discussed the life experiences and the place of sport and PA with 22 Indigenous women. A complex amalgamation of cultural beliefs and traditions, history, gendered factors, and geography are presented in the women's stories. Sport and PA were highly regarded, providing the women with opportunities to maintain strong communities, preserve culture, and develop distinct identities as ‘enablers’. The women called for culturally safe spaces in which to engage in PA and noted the need for Indigenous females to act as role models. The study provides preliminary understandings that can be used to facilitate greater sport and PA inclusion, and implications for future research are presented. 
  • The community network: an Aboriginal community football club bringing people together. Thorpe A, Anders W and Rowley K, Australian Journal of Primary Health, published online (2014). This study combined a review of literature on the impact of sport on health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people with semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions. The interviews provided further detail around the significance of cultural values and community connection among Aboriginal people. The complex nature of social connections and the strength of Aboriginal community networks in sports settings were also evident. Social reasons were just as important as individual health reasons for sports participation. Social and community connection is an important mechanism among Aboriginal people for maintaining and strengthening their cultural values and identity. This research supported the observation that Aboriginal sports teams have the potential to make a profound impact on the health of Aboriginal people, especially its players, by fostering a safe and culturally strengthening environment and encompassing a significant positive social hub for the Aboriginal community.
  • Indigenous peoples participation in sport and physical activitiesAustralian Bureau of Statistics, (June 2010). This article presents information on Indigenous people's participation in sport and physical recreation collected in the 2008 ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS).
  • Indigenous Participation in Australian Sport: The Perils of the ‘Panacea’ Proposition, John Robert Evans, Rachel Wilson, Bronwen Dalton, Steve Georgakis, Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, (2015). The argument that participation in sport among disadvantaged populations can produce positive outcomes in wide range of areas has been a consistent theme in academic literature. In Australia, participation in sport among Indigenous Australians has been proffered as a ‘panacea’ for many Indigenous problems; from promoting better health and education outcomes, to encouraging community building, good citizenship and entrepreneurship. Parallel to this has been a focus on documenting and analysing sport participation among Indigenous Australians in elite sport which often concludes that Indigenous Australians have an innate and ‘natural ability’ in sports.


  • A Kickstart to Life for Indigenous Youth (PDF  - 156 KB). Sellwood J.M., Dinan-Thompson MT & Pembroke F. Paper presented at the AARE Annual Conference, Melbourne, (2004). A preliminary analysis on the implementation of a particular sporting program, the Australian Football League ‘Kickstart’ program in a small Cape York community.
  • A new game. Stuart Rintoul, The Age, (17 May 2014). Racial tension between Aboriginal and African youths in Darwin has been quelled by a shared love of sport.
  • An evaluation of an Australian Aboriginal controlled-community organization’s remote sports-based programme: a qualitative investigation, Louisa R. Peraltaa & Renata L. Cinelli, Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, (November 2015).Current research suggests that Aboriginal-controlled organizations should play a larger role in developing and implementing sports-based programs for Aboriginal young people. In this paper, we explore the influence of an Aboriginal-controlled organization and its government-funded remote sports-based program on Aboriginal participants and non-Aboriginal stakeholders.
  • Expecting too much? Can Indigenous sport programmes in Australia deliver development and social outcomes? Tony Rossi, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, Volume 7, Issue 2, (2015). Sport holds a special place in the national psyche of many nations with claims for sport being far reaching. More recently sport has been identified as a development and an educational tool in the areas of health and behaviour modification. Against the backdrop of the Close the Gap blueprint for Indigenous Australians and within the context of competing claims for sport, this paper discusses whether sport can genuinely contribute to community development in Indigenous Australian communities. Drawing on cases from sports-based programs that spanned a 5-year research program and informed by a theoretical framework inspired by Sen’s notion of ‘Development as Freedom’, this paper makes the case that sport can be a robust developmental tool capable of delivering social outcomes to marginalized communities.
  • Sport development programmes for Indigenous Australians: innovation, inclusion and development,  or a product of ‘white guilt’? Tony Rossia and Steven Rynne, Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics (2014). Under the legacy of neoliberalism, it is important to consider how the indigenous people, in this case of Australia, are to advance, develop and achieve some approximation of parity with broader societies in terms of health, educational outcomes and economic participation. In this paper, we explore the relationships between welfare dependency, individualism, responsibility, rights, liberty and the role of the state in the provision of Government-funded programmes of sport to Indigenous communities. 
  • The community network: an Aboriginal community football club bringing people together, Thorpe A, Anders W, Rowley K, Australian Journal of Primary Health (2014). There are few empirical studies about the role of Aboriginal sporting organisations in promoting wellbeing. The aim of the present study was to understand the impact of an Aboriginal community sporting team and its environment on the social, emotional and physical wellbeing of young Aboriginal men, and to identify barriers and motivators for participation.
  • The Impact of Indigenous Community Sports Programs:The Case of Surfing (PDF  - 1.8 MB), The University of Queensland, (June 2012). This report outlines findings from a research project that investigated the impact of community surfing programs on the lives of Indigenous Australians. The study examined whether surfing programs confer social benefits on participants and how surfing programs should be designed for sustainability and viability.
  • The power of sport: Building social bridges and breaking down cultural barriers, Dr Paul Oliver, Curtin University, (September 2015). Is sport effective at breaking down cultural barriers within sporting communities for Indigenous Australians and people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds? Can it build social bridges by contributing to wider social issues? Drawing upon insights from those in this field, this thesis finds that sport is not the magic 'cure-all' that some assume. However, if managed correctly, sport can be an excellent medium for encouraging valuable debate, and can assist with positive social change.
  • To play Papunya: the problematic interface between a remote Aboriginal community and the organization of Australian Football in Central Australia, Judd, Barry; Butcher, Tim, Sport in Society, Vol. 18 Issue 5, (June 2015). This paper outlines issues arising from engagement with the remote Aboriginal community of Papunya. Researching the relationship between the community's football club and the organization of competitive fixtures in the Central Australian Football League (CAFL), we found that contrary to popular discourse the well-being of men in Papunya may be damaged by their participation in ‘town football’. We outline the nature of the current relationship between Papunya and the CAFL and the efforts of Elders to reshape the organizational interface via the establishment of an ‘on-country’ football league. We highlight that organizational rhetoric about reconciliation and cross-cultural awareness is not enough to warrant effective working relationships with Papunya people. We argue that there is a need to move beyond recognition of difference that is embodied in such agendas to develop strategies of interface inclusive of Aboriginal understandings of football.

Race Relations


Resources & Toolkits

  • Everyone Wins – Community sporting clubsVicHealth, (2011). This toolkit specifically aims to help clubs increase the involvement of women and girls, Aboriginal people and people from culturally diverse communities. It provides practical tools and resources to help Victorian community sports clubs become more inclusive and welcoming of everyone in their community.
  • Play by the Rules. Provides free information, resources and online training for grassroots clubs and sporting organisations to ensure everyone involved in sport can participate in an enjoyable, safe environment, free from discrimination.

Sport History

  • Black pearls : the Aboriginal and Islander sports hall of fame, Colin & Paul Tatz, Aboriginal Studies Press, (2018). Evonne Goolagong, Cathy Freeman, Nova Peris, Lionel Rose, Artie Beetson, Polly Farmer, are just a few of our Australian sporting heroes who, since the mid-1880s, have helped shape Australia’s identity as a great sporting nation. They, along with 269 other sporting greats, from 26 sports, across a period of 150 years, are showcased here in this third edition of the Aboriginal and Islander Sports Hall of Fame. The book also reveals a history of inclusion and exclusion, about Aboriginal determination in the face of enormous obstacles, and resilience in overcoming remoteness, discriminatory laws, incarceration on isolated reserves, and opponents in a variety of sports arenas.
  • Black gold : the Aboriginal and Islander Sports Hall of Fame, Tatz, C, Canberra Aboriginal Studies Press (2000.) In 1995, Professor Colin Tatz and a panel of sportspeople and historians selected 129 athletes for the inaugural Aboriginal and Islander Sports Hall of Fame. Since then, forty-three new stars have been inducted and Black Gold features all 172 members, from thirty sports. Some of the people in this book are members of the Stolen Generations who were raised in ‘assimilation’ homes but pursued their dreams against all odds. Many grew up in remote, impoverished settlements where ‘sports facilities’ were bumpy dirt tracks, scrubby pitches or dustbowl ovals with sticks for goalposts. Black Gold honours all who have leapt the twin hurdles of racism and competition to realise their talents in the elite arenas of national or international sport.
  • Black diamonds : the Aboriginal and Islander sports hall of fame, Colin & Paul Tatz, Allen & Unwin, (1996).  Australians love sport: playing it, watching it, talking it, reading about it. In one area - Aboriginal and Islander sport - we know only a fraction of the real achievements. A few outstanding men and women are household names: Lionel Rose in the ring, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley on the court, Cathy Freeman on the tartan track, Mal Meninga and 'Polly' Farmer on the league and Aussie rules ovals. But there is so much more greatness and triumph out there, much of it buried in history or known to only a handful of fans. Black Diamonds brings together,for the first time, the 129 indigenous Australians who comprise the first Aboriginal and Islander Sports Hall of Fame. Representing 25 sports, from athletics and Aussie rules to tennis and woodchopping, their achievements are part of Australia's sporting history. Their stories are great stories: sometimes tragic, they are all triumphs over adversity.
  • History of Indigenous Athletes in Australia. Jake Stevens, Jump Media and Marketing/Athletics Australia, (30 May 2017). Indigenous Australians have a proud and fascinating history with track and field in Australia. From the turn of the century to modern day elite athletes, the indigenous story of athletics is invaluable to our history. Note: This story may contain the names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased.
  • Indigenous athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport, text by Mick Fogarty, Australian Sports Commission, (2005). The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) opened its doors to its first scholarship intake in January 1981. The catalyst for the Australian Government's decision to establish the AIS was Australia's disappointing performance at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, at which Australia failed to win a single gold medal...In the first ten years of the AIS, 16 indigenous athletEs received scholarships. The majority of these were in two team sports - basketball (six) and netball (four). the first Indigenous scholarship athlete was netballer Marcia Ella from Matraville in NSW.
  • Indigenous Australian Olympians, Australian Olympic Committee, (accessed 7 February 2018). Of the 51 indigenous athletes to represent Australia at the Olympic Games, 38 are men and 13 are women. But between them the women have won nine out of Australia’s 12 Indigenous medals. See the full list of Australian Indigenous Olympians in chronological order here (PDF  - 106 KB). [Note: This list was last updated in May 2017, and did not include figure skater Harley Windsor who became the first Indigenous Winter Olympic athlete at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games.]
  • Indigenous Paralympians recognised for NAIDOC week, Australian Paralympic Committee media release, (6 July 2017). The APC initially unveiled the Indigenous Paralympian honour board, recognising 11 athletes dating back to Kevin Coombs at the first Paralympic Games in 1960, at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) in December 2015. Australia’s Indigenous Paralympians formally recognised include: Kevin Coombs OAM; Peter Kirby; Warren Lawton OAM; Tracy Barrell OAM; Karl Feifar OAM; Donna Burns OAM; Ben Austin OAM; Tahlia Rotumah; Kayla Clarke; Amanda Fowler, Torita Isaac; and Ray Barrett
  • Sporting Chance: Indigenous Participation in Australian Sport History, Sean Gorman, Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, (2010). For many non-Indigenous Australians the only time they have any engagement with Indigenous peoples, history or issues is through watching sport on television or being at a football match at the MCG. This general myopia and indifference by settler Australians with Indigenous Australians manifests itself in many ways but perhaps most obscenely in the simple fact that Indigenous Australians die nearly 20 years younger than the rest of Australia's citizens. Many non-Indigenous Australians do not know this. Sport in many ways has offered Indigenous Australians a platform from which to begin the slow, hard process for social justice and equity to be actualised. 


Clearinghouse Videos

Please note a number of the resources below (as indicated) are restricted to ‘GOLD' AIS Advantage small AIS Advantage members only.
Please see the Clearinghouse membership categories for further information.


Related Topics


The Clearinghouse for Sport acknowledges the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander peoples as the traditional custodians of the land in which we live and work.




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