CFL Lags Behind Aussie Football Codes in Indigenous Space

It seems that the Canadian Football League is lagging far behind professional football codes in Australia when it comes to fostering Indigenous peoples within its player ranks.

In Part 2 of our interview with one of Canada’s foremost experts on race and sport, Associate Professor John Valentine of MacEwan University, we look at how the CFL stacks up against the National Rugby League (NRL) and Australian Football League (AFL).

As we revealed in our first article featuring professor Valentine, the CFL still has much to do in terms of being more inclusive of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. In the CFL’s history, fewer than 20 Indigenous players from Canada and the US combined have signed with teams.

That is not the case with the NRL. It is now three-quarters of the way through its 2018-2022 Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) which is committed to greater promotion and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within the game of rugby league.

In the NRL, there are 16 teams, and each team has a roster of 29 players. Right now, players of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background make up 12% of all players in the league. And they represent 24% of players on the men’s national rugby league team.

The league also features players of Polynesian descent, who now account for 50% of all players in the NRL. And in New Zealand, 70% of players on the NRL’s only team based on the other side of the Tasman Sea are of Maori or Pacific Island descent.

The NRL has various events to promote and celebrate the inclusion of Indigenous peoples within the game including an All Stars game, which features two select sides made up entirely of Indigenous and Pasifika players, as well as an Indigenous themed round during the regular season.

Over in the AFL, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players account for up to 13% of all players. There are 18 teams in the league and each one has 22 players on its list.

The AFL also has an Indigenous round during its regular season, and it has developed the AFL Indigenous Programs Leadership curriculum that focuses on engagement, talent and education outcomes.

Suffice it to say, these two professional football codes in Australasia are committed to ensuring Indigenous peoples are included within their games.

“Canada’s not there,” said professor Valentine. “Maybe Australia and New Zealand are a little bit farther along the lines of encouraging Indigenous people to get involved.”

“And the sport is supporting them. I think you’re seeing more examples of that in places like Australia and New Zealand than you are in Canada.”

Professor Valentine says he thinks there are pretty clear reasons for that being the case. He says rugby league and Aussie rules football are both seen as more important national sports. And in New Zealand, rugby union has national significance.

“Whereas in Canada, Canadian football, although it’s Canadian, doesn’t have the same importance,” he continued. “It’s got to be hockey or some other sports, but Canadian football is not there yet.”

“And also, maybe the cost is a factor. To play Aussie rules or to play rugby it just seems you go out and play, you don’t need all this equipment and all that sort of stuff. Whereas in Canada, you still need access to the helmet, shoulder pads and all that sort of stuff which might be a barrier.”

As he pointed out in our first article, professor Valentine is of the opinion that the CFL ought to put as much emphasis on developing Canadian Indigenous players as it does on the promotion of homegrown Canadian players.

Published by @BrianDavidLowe

Professional journalist with 30+ years experience. Background in broadcast news, digital media and sports writing. The Canadian Football League is my sporting passion.

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