Home » Calls to address sporting infrastructure amid Alice Springs football ban

Calls to address sporting infrastructure amid Alice Springs football ban

The coach of a remote central Australian football team says his players have lost the motivation to train, after learning they will not be allowed to play on the Alice Springs Town Council’s sporting fields in the upcoming season of the community competition.

“They really don’t feel like it now … they stopped, just like that,” said Stephen Briscoe, coach of the Laramba Roos.

“Before this, I had all these players who’d been training on the oval, but after they heard the news, there’s no-one left training on the oval.”

The Alice Springs Town Council yesterday withdrew its support for the 2023 season of central Australia’s remote football league, citing long-held concerns that the league causes a spike in crime rates and social issues in the town.

The annual community competition, which runs from May through to August, sees hundreds of players and fans from remote communities travel to Alice Springs for matches.

But Mr Briscoe, whose small community of Laramba is 200 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, said pushing the league out of town would make the competition less safe for remote residents.

Stephen Briscoe says footy players in Laramba are upset about the Alice Springs Town Council’s decision.(ABC News: Isabella Higgins)

“You’ve got the police station in Alice Springs and you’ve got a lot of police around,” he said.

“If you’re going to do it out in community or somewhere else, people are going to fight, and the supporters won’t be happy.

“Some health workers and nurses [in community] are not working on Sundays … if someone breaks their leg, what’s going to happen?”

Mr Briscoe said the Roos had been looking forward to returning to the competition this year after an administration error in 2022 saw the team dropped from the league.

Remote sporting infrastructure called into question

Mr Briscoe said the sporting infrastructure was lacking in Laramba and many other communities in the region, and called for greater investment in remote Central Australia.

“The ovals have not been graded properly,” he said.

“They don’t have any lawn, and some of them don’t have any lights … to be able to play at night.”

Footy team celebrates in the NT AFL competition
The Alice Springs Council will not allow the community competition to be played on any council-owned fields.(ABC Alice Springs: Xavier Martin)

The Central Land Council (CLC) echoed calls to improve remote infrastructure and facilities, and described the town council’s decision as “a backwards step”.

CLC chief executive Les Turner said there was a perception that banning the community league being played in town was “racist” and a form of “discrimination”.

“Footy is one of the few things that brings joy to people in communities in Central Australia,” he said.

“Coming to Alice Springs from communities with family and mob can be an adventure for people who need opportunities, and that the rest of us take for granted.

“Our people are passionate about sport … it’s an activity that makes people feel good and healthy.”

Mr Turner acknowledged previous bad behaviour at games, including a slew of violent incidents at the 2021 grand final, but said barring some teams from playing in town would create division.

A man wearing glasses and a navy shirt.
Les Turner says sport is one of the few joys for people living in remote communities.(ABC News: Mitchell Abram)

“What we need is a major investment in communities, a real commitment — not reducing opportunity for our people because it makes people uncomfortable,” he said.

“In terms of a strategy for dealing with it, I think it comes back to a lack of investment by the Northern Territory government in infrastructure in our communities to provide facilities, ovals, and all that.

“We have a Northern Territory government that can go and spend $160 million on an overpass when our communities are suffering from lack of investment.”

Town councillors divided

On Tuesday, several town councillors opposed the motion, saying they had not seen evidence that the community league was having a negative impact in town.

A crowd of people stood on a green oval.
Councillors Gavin Morris and Marli Banks opposed the motion on Tuesday.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

One councillor suggested the move could open the council to a racial discrimination complaint because the ban was targeted at an Aboriginal football league.

But Alice Springs Mayor Matt Paterson, who voted in favour of the motion, said the debate around community football was “not a new conversation”.

“There’s been a lack of infrastructure in remote communities forever, and that’s the really important part of this conversation,” he said.

“There’s a push-pull factor into Alice Springs, and that’s happening through remote communities coming in.

“We’ve got Areyonga playing against Hermannsburg in Alice Springs — they’re 80km away, but they’ve got to drive 200km to use our facilities in Alice Springs because they don’t have any.”

AFL Northern Territory (AFL NT) sent a letter to the town council prior to its meeting, expressing its opposition towards the motion.

In the letter, obtained by the ABC, AFL NT chairman Sean Bowden and head Sam Gibson said, following the 2021 season, the organisation had taken steps to address issues, including:

  • Investment in resources and education
  • The introduction of an E-Points (Environment Point) system, which rewards teams that create “positive game environments” with premiership points
  • A 30 per cent reduction in the number of games played in Alice Springs

Council had ‘uncomfortable conversation’

Cr Paterson said AFL NT had not done enough to address the town council’s ongoing concerns.

Close shot of man's face, with dark hair and beard and glasses.
Matt Paterson says attempts by AFL NT to remedy the issues was too little too late.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

“AFL NT probably didn’t think that it would get to this point and they’ve kicked the can down the road,” he said.

“They’ve realised that it’s a reality and they’ve sent the 11th-hour email.

“It’s a pretty brave decision and an uncomfortable conversation to have, and they probably underestimated that council are going to have that discussion.”

In a statement on Tuesday, AFL NT said it was “deeply disappointed” in the decision and would “consider its position” concerning it. 

“To date, no evidence around the supposed negative impact the community competition has on social issues in Alice Springs has been provided,” a spokesperson said.

“On the contrary, there is significant evidence-based research that demonstrates that football is a pathway to good social outcomes that improves and enhances people’s lives.”