ABORIGINAL awareness will be front and centre for the Ballarat Football League next weekend.
The league will host its first indigenous round as it hopes to push vilification further into the past.
The indigenous round will have a modest beginning, with a welcome ceremony acknowledging the traditional owners at each venue, and the centre circles at all grounds to be painted in the black, yellow and red of the Aboriginal flag. Wherever possible, indigenous players will also represent their clubs at the coin toss at each game. The BFL will then build on the indigenous theme in future seasons.
BFL chief executive officer Rod Ward said the indigenous round was part of the league’s response to racial vilification that occurred during an elimination final last year.
He said an indigenous round was as relevant to country football as it is to the national AFL competition.
“This was devised last year. I caught up with (AFL Victoria Indigenous Programs manager) Aaron Clark at a post-season review to discuss what happened during the finals. We brainstormed a couple of things we could do to make the BFL a warm and welcoming environment for all cultures,” Ward said.
“We don’t copy everything the AFL does. Only things that we feel have merit. But with the discrimination that happened last year and the subsequent suspension of two Melton South supporters, we felt this was an AFL program that could be helpful at this level.
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“Given Ballarat’s proud history with indigenous footballers, there is a real opportunity for this to be more successful here perhaps than some other areas around the state.
“I think the league has never been better in this regard but there is still room for improvement.”
Ward said a round devoted to indigenous awareness, combined with tougher penalties for players, officials or supporters found guilty of vilification, would get the message across.
The indigenous round follows this weekend’s Respect for Women round, designed to raise awareness of the pivotal role women play in football at all levels.
“When we did the fixture we wanted a few theme rounds, and we wanted to space them out. We have some plans for the future to celebrate the round,” Ward said.
“Next year we are planning to have an indigenous walk like the AFL’s Long Walk (named after Michael Long) to games.
“We also plan to roll out the AFL’s vilification training programs to all clubs.”