Central Australia’s remote football competition has been dealt a major blow after the Alice Springs council withdrew its support for this season amid concerns about crime rates and social issues in the town.
- The Alice Springs Town Council has withdrawn its support for this year’s remote community football competition
- Councillor Michael Liddle said he brought forward the motion to give local organisations time to address social issues in the town
- AFLNT said there was a “significant deficit” in remote community sports infrastructure
Alice Springs town councillor Michael Liddle brought forward the motion in a meeting yesterday, which passed despite strong opposition by two other councillors.
The community competition, which runs every year, sees teams from remote communities around Central Australia travel to Alice Springs for games each week.
It was set to begin in May.
Mr Liddle, an Alyawarre man, described the move as a “pause” on the competition for one year because of the current crime crisis engulfing the town.
“This pausing is so all Aboriginal organisations can take a step back and just have a look at what’s going on here,” he said.
“It’s only going to be for one year, and then we’ll re-address the problems after that.”
The decision means players and spectators of the community competition will not be allowed access to any council-owned sporting fields in Alice Springs.
In a letter written to the council before its meeting and obtained by the ABC, AFL Northern Territory (AFLNT) chairman Sean Bowden and head Sam Gibson said the decision would make it very difficult for the competition to proceed due to the “significant deficit” in remote sporting infrastructure.
“The infrastructure deficit ranges from unsafe playing surfaces to having no access to drinking water, to non-existent change rooms for men, women and umpires, amongst other things,” the letter reads.
Mr Bowden and Mr Gibson said AFLNT had been working with the federal and Northern Territory governments, as well as the Central Land Council, to invest in facilities for remote communities.
In a statement released yesterday, AFLNT said it was “deeply disappointed” in the decision and would “consider its position” concerning it.
‘Of course it’s not fair’
Mr Bowden and Mr Gibson also said in the letter that the move unfairly placed blame on people involved in the community competition for the town’s social issues.
“Non-Aboriginal people, residents of Alice Springs and residents of other Central Australian communities who play other sports or who are not Aboriginal (for example, a team from Tennant Creek) will not be denied access to these facilities,” the letter reads.
“We are also concerned that the intent and context behind the resolution seeks to apportion responsibility for the social issues in Alice Springs on the football teams and a football competition that runs for a maximum of 11 weeks of the year.”
Mr Liddle denied this.
“That’s not true, but we have to start somewhere,” he said.
“If we’re going to encourage 3,000 people to frequent Alice Springs every weekend, we’ve got to start looking at things — how can we start addressing some of the social issues we’re having in Alice Springs?”
As a former football player and referee, Mr Liddle acknowledged how much of a blow it would be for remote communities.
“Of course it’s not fair, people love sport,” he said.
Sport has potential to ‘turn community around’
Rob Clarke is the coach and president of local football club Redtails Pinktails, which uses sport as a tool to help keep young people in Central Australia on a positive path.
He said the program demonstrated that sport was an important tool for tackling social issues, especially among young people.
“I can see the powerful outcomes from individuals that have changed their lives,” Mr Clarke said.
“If we can focus on that and [put] resources to that, we will turn our community around.”
He said regardless of whether sport is played in a community or town, it needed more resources and infrastructure.
“I think we’re … missing the bus with how we can actually implement change with these young people that are engaging in something that inspires them, energises them, and they want to be there,” Mr Clarke said.
“We’re failing in not focusing on that opportunity; we’re failing as a community.”
Kurt Abbott is an Anmatjere man from the small town of Ti Tree, about 200 kilometres north of Alice Springs.
He used to represent his community in the bush competition and is now a Redtails member and plays for the Rovers Football Club in Alice Springs.
“It [football] is like a culture to everyone, to every community that talks about footy and how skilful they are,” he said.
“Growing up with it — my father played here [in Alice Springs], his uncle played here.
“It’s very important for us.”