Adam Goodes has turned to football in an official capacity for the first time with a place on an advisory council charged with overseeing the development of Indigenous football in Australia.
The AFL great, who has largely shunned Australian rules football since he was forced into retirement from the game in 2015, has a longstanding affection for the round-ball code and has played in a Sydney over-35s park competition in recent years.
Goodes grew up playing football and only switched to Australian rules after he and his family moved to a small country town in Victoria, where there was no junior football club to play for.
He told SBS in 2018 that he always knew he would return to football “because the love for the game has never left me”, and he will now have a chance to shape pathways into the game for young Indigenous people.
Indigenous Football Australia (IFA) – set up to oversee the strategy and expansion of Australia’s longest-running Indigenous football initiative, John Moriarty Football – aims to help create social change through the game, making it more accessible for grassroots and elite Indigenous players.
“I am really excited to be able to share my life experience in sport and business to help others on a similar journey,” Goodes said. “I am looking forward to learning from other experts who are on the council. But most of all it is about the young people and giving them the best opportunity to achieve their dreams.”
With poor Indigenous representation at higher levels of the game in Australia, it is hoped Goodes can help facilitate pathways for young Indigenous football talent to break through.
“Using sport to drive social change for Indigenous Australians ... that expertise doesn’t matter what sport background you’re from,” IFA council conveyor and JMF program director Jamie Morriss said.
“We know Indigenous Australians do love AFL [football] and the AFL has done a better job [than Football Australia] at bringing through talent at the highest level. Football hasn’t achieved that just yet but Adam will potentially have some great insights into what needs to be done to become more successful in bringing through this talent to the top of the game.”
The dual Brownlow medallist and Australian of the Year will sit on the IFA council along with a number of prominent Indigenous football names, including current A-League Women players Gema Simon, Allira Toby and Jada Whyman.
Former Socceroo turned human rights campaigner Craig Foster, one of Goodes’s Waverley Old Boys teammates in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, and Travis Dodd, the first Indigenous man to score for the Socceroos, have also been named on the council, which has a majority Indigenous membership and is gender equal.
Yanyuwa man John Moriarty – the first Indigenous footballer to be selected for Australia and co-founder of the JMF – said the diversity and strength of the Indigenous-led panel were “unparalleled”.
“Each member is more than a symbolic appointment,” Moriarty said. “They all bring unique, lived experience plus skills, aligned values and goals for Indigenous football in Australia. Each member is committed to creating tangible, equitable and lasting change.”
Kanulu/Gangulu woman Toby, who plays for Canberra United, said it was “a long-awaited step in the right direction for our people”, while Wiradjuri/Yorta Yorta woman and Matildas goalkeeper Whyman said she was “incredibly honoured and humbled” to be a part of the initiative.
Football Australia, the game’s governing body, is not directly affiliated with IFA but launched its own inaugural National Indigenous Advisory Group last year and has had involvement with programmes the JMF has run over the past 10 years.
Morriss said the IMF would willing to work more closely with FA or “anyone who is supportive of the program we’ve been running”.
Goodes was booed out of the AFL in 2015 and has since distanced himself from the code, although he made a rare public appearance at the Sydney Swans’ 10-year premiership celebrations earlier this year.