Women’s World Cup: Australian Indigenous players hit out at ’empty symbolism’ at the tournament

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Current and former international football players from Australia’s Indigenous community have expressed their disappointment with the lack of funding specifically aimed at promoting First Nations football during the Women’s World Cup, which is being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. 

In a letter addressed to Football Australia and FIFA, the signatories highlighted the absence of evidence of funding to increase Indigenous participation in the A$291 million ‘Legacy ’23’ plan, which aims to develop the sport in the country. They pointed out that while Indigenous culture, symbolism, traditional ceremonies, and installations were prominently featured in the tournament, there was a lack of financial support to back up the importance placed on Indigenous culture in football.

“(But) not a single dollar from the legacy programme has been committed to organisations that are Indigenous-led, managed and have long carried the burden for First Nations in the Australian game,” it continued.

“Without support for the Indigenous community and their programs, we consider this symbolism empty.”

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Football Australia highlighted a series of initiatives aimed at the Indigenous community, such as the New South Wales legacy program worth A$10 million, which specifically catered to the First Nations.

“The claim that there has been a lack of funding for grassroots indigenous football programs within the ‘Legacy ’23’ initiative is not accurate,” it said.”We want to make it clear that the support and advancement of Indigenous football programs are integral parts of our commitment.”

FIFA expressed their commitment to engaging with First Nations and Maori communities in a meaningful and genuine way. Sarai Baremen, the women’s football officer who is of New Zealand and Samoan/Dutch descent, outlined several initiatives for the tournament. 

These initiatives include displaying binational signage at all FIFA events, using traditional place names for host cities and training sites, incorporating First Nations flags in stadiums, organizing a cultural panel specifically for First Nations and Maori, and incorporating cultural protocols into the opening, closing, and pre-match ceremonies, as well as VIP welcomes. 

Additionally, FIFA emphasized the importance of including First Nations and Maori business supplier networks to promote sustainable procurement models in areas such as gifting, catering, furniture, creative projects, and biodiversity.

Australia’s Indigenous people have been living on the continent for thousands of years, but have faced discrimination and neglect since the British colonization in 1788. The country is currently focusing on Indigenous rights and will be voting in a referendum this year to decide whether to officially recognize them in the constitution. 

The letter advocating for Indigenous rights was signed by current and former members of the men’s and women’s national soccer teams, including Jada Whyman, Gema Simon, and Travis Dodd. The Moriarty Foundation, founded by John Moriarty, the first Indigenous footballer to represent Australia in soccer, organized the letter.

“Indigenous players have to fight that much harder just to have the same opportunities as non-Indigenous players,” he said.

“And those living in remote and regional communities also face extreme financial disadvantage, high unemployment and housing challenges.”

The Moriarty Foundation has initiated a crowd funding initiative on GoFundMe during the World Cup in order to collect funds for various purposes, ranging from purchasing boots to providing scholarships for Indigenous boys and girls.

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