FFA hope to unearth indigenous stars
Photo Source: AAP
The next Kyah Simon and Jade North are out there - and steps are being made to find them.
Football Federation Australia is hopeful a first national indigenous football championships will unearth future Matildas and Socceroos currently flying under the radar.
To be held in NSW's Shoalhaven region in November, the tournament is part of the sport's bid to emulate the success of other codes in fostering indigenous talent.
Indigenous players make up nine per cent of this year's AFL list, while 12 per cent of NRL players identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander thanks to targeted recruitment and talent identification programs.
That there are no more than a handful in the A-League and W-League speaks of opportunities not yet seized.
It's not lost on FFA chief executive David Gallop, who as a former NRL boss witnessed the rise of stars like Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis.
"I did see in that job the enormous difference sport can make in those communities and the excellence that indigenous boys and girls, men and women can bring to sport," Gallop said.
"Football has got some catching up to do in terms of embracing indigenous communities and making sure we provide opportunities for indigenous boys and girls."
It's unknown how many future Australian No.10s could be running around in tiny towns like Northern Territory's Borroloola, from where prodigiously talented teenager Shadeene Evans was plucked and fast-tracked into the elite program at Sydney's Westfield Sports High.
Evans, the face of Indigenous Football Week, was identified through John Moriarty Football, a program run in partnership with FFA.
But Gallop said more needed to be done, describing the indigenous football championships as an "overdue step" in redressing the under-representation.
Its director, Bernie McLeod, started one of the country's first all-Indigenous football clubs about a decade ago in Wreck Bay, on the NSW south coast.
His aim was to help get kids off the streets and seek education and a healthy lifestyle.
The tournament, expected to attract up to 1000 participants in its first year, will include a Johnny Warren Football Foundation celebrity match featuring the likes of Anthony Mundine, Andrew Walker, George Rose and Nathan Blacklock.
"We're not talking about taking indigenous players from other games," said former Socceroos Craig Foster.
"We're talking about choice, and giving more kids from more communities the opportunity to excel, and through our game, to see the world."