‘Politics and Sport Should Mix’: Australia’s Sporting Codes Vote Yes to Indigenous Voice

‘Politics and Sport Should Mix’: Australia’s Sporting Codes Vote Yes to Indigenous Voice
Chair of Football Australia’s National Indigenous Advisory Committee Jade North, Mal Meninga and Jamie Pittman speak on stage during a media opportunity with Australian sports governing body representatives who will support the Voice, at North Sydney Oval in Sydney, Australia on May 26, 2023. (Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
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Every sports organisation in Australia has announced they will support the yes vote in the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.

It comes despite warnings from Indigenous leaders that the legislation, which proposed to insert a clause into the Constitution, would divide Australians based on race instead of promoting inclusivity or unity.

In an open letter delivered on May 26 in Sydney, over 20 national sporting bodies voiced their support for the establishment of a legislative body made up of Indigenous people.

The letter was signed by executives and players from major sporting codes, including the AFL, NRL, Football Australia, Basketball Australia, Cricket Australia, Tennis Australia, Netball Australia and Rugby Australia.

“We, as a collective, support recognition through a Voice,” the letter said.

“Sport plays a significant role in reconciling Australia. It has long been a means for the inclusion and celebration of the incredible achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” the letter said.

“We commit to using our platforms to lead conversations that promote respect, trust and goodwill between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Daly Cherry-Evans (2nd L) of the Sea Eagles, wearing a rainbow-trimmed Pride jersey, defends during the rugby league match between the Manly Sea Eagles and Sydney Roosters in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 2022. (Glenn Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images)
Daly Cherry-Evans (2nd L) of the Sea Eagles, wearing a rainbow-trimmed Pride jersey, defends during the rugby league match between the Manly Sea Eagles and Sydney Roosters in Sydney, Australia, on July 28, 2022. (Glenn Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images)

The sports coalition encouraged other Australians who love sports to “listen with an open heart and an open mind through this historic moment.”

“Together, we share a vision for the future as a nation that values equality, fairness, and the rights of the traditional custodians of our land—the land on which we play, love and celebrate sport in Australia.”

The open letter was delivered by sporting luminaries, including national rugby league coach Mal Meninga and retired stars Jade North (Socceroos), Eddie Betts (AFL), Jason Gillespie (cricket), Cath Cox (netball), Andrew Gaze (basketball) and Jamie Pittman (boxing).

What Sporting Identities Said

Meninga suggested that sport plays such a significant place in Australian society that “this time, in particular, politics and sport should mix.”

“We’re Australians, and we’re going to be asked to vote yes or no. So what’s wrong with us having a voice? What’s wrong with us having an opinion?”

He added that sports “should have a voice in what is a really significant issue in Australian history.”

Mal Meninga, Head Coach of Australia is interviewed during the Rugby League World Cup Final Press Conference ahead of the Rugby League World Cup Final in Manchester, England, on November 17, 2022. (Nathan Stirk/Getty Images for RLWC)
Mal Meninga, Head Coach of Australia is interviewed during the Rugby League World Cup Final Press Conference ahead of the Rugby League World Cup Final in Manchester, England, on November 17, 2022. (Nathan Stirk/Getty Images for RLWC)

Meanwhile, Rugby League chief executive Andrew Abdo said the sports and rugby league offers the opportunity to celebrate multiple cultures living in the country and promote unity.

“Sport is a language that everyone understands,” he said.

James Johnson, Football Australia (FA) chief executive, echoed the sentiment, saying as FA represents two million participants across the country, they need to make sure that they are “a values-led organisation.”

George Rose, No Limits Boxing chief executive, said the yes vote to the Voice to Parliament “may be a small step,” but “it’s a step that we all want to be a part of.”

Sports Should Be Apolitical: Australian Mining Magnate

It was not the first time sporting bodies showed their support for progressive legislation.
In October 2022, Australia’s wealthiest person and her mining company on Saturday pulled an AU$15 million (US$9.53 million) sponsorship deal from Netball Australia after the former captain of its women’s team convinced some players to protest in support of climate change.
Jemma Mi Mi of the Firebirds catches the ball during the Super Netball Round 2 match between Sunshine Coast Lightning and Queensland Firebirds at USC Stadium in the Sunshine Coast, Australia, on April 2, 2022. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)
Jemma Mi Mi of the Firebirds catches the ball during the Super Netball Round 2 match between Sunshine Coast Lightning and Queensland Firebirds at USC Stadium in the Sunshine Coast, Australia, on April 2, 2022. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

Gina Rinehart, and her company Hancock Prospecting, which mines iron ore (not coal), said she was withdrawing sponsorship due to disunity within the sport and after inaccurate reporting on her company’s work with Indigenous communities.

In a separate statement addressing recent media coverage of the dispute, Hancock said sports sponsorship should be free of “social and political causes.”

“The reality is that sponsorship is integral to sports organisations—for full-time professionals right through to young children at grassroots level—who rely on corporations investing the funds that enable all sports to not only survive, but thrive,” the company’s state reads. “Sadly, recent media does not help encourage sporting sponsorships.”

Hancock also noted it provided extensive support to Indigenous communities.

Hancock Prospecting owns Roy Hill, which sponsors Netball Australia’s Western Australia branch and team West Coast Fever.

Voice Risks Dividing Australians On Race

While sporting organisations cite unity as their basis for supporting the Voice, several prominent Indigenous leaders have warned that it would do the opposite.
Australian Aboriginal leader Warren Mundine speaks at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
Australian Aboriginal leader Warren Mundine speaks at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Warren Mundine, the former national president of the Australian Labor Party, argued that the proposal advocated would involve “putting one race above other races.”

“Putting The Voice in our Constitution is dangerous because we want all citizens to be treated equally. When you’ve got it into the body of the Constitution, then it can become discriminatory and racist,” he told The Epoch Times.

“This idea that you need to set up a huge bureaucracy that’s going to cost millions and millions of dollars to operate and is going to solve all these problems is just a fantasy world,” he said.

“Name me a law that doesn’t affect Aboriginal people. It’s every law, it’s taxation, it’s traffic, road rules, it’s education, it’s health, it’s the budget.”

The former chairman of the Coalition government’s Indigenous Advisory Council said five similar attempts to change the Constitution have occurred since 1970, all of which have failed. Mundine said experiments with such laws have “ended in revolution and argument.”

AAP and Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this report. 
Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected].
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