Sporting codes unite in support for voice referendum

·3-min read
Mike Egerton/AAP PHOTOS

More than 20 national sporting bodies have come together under one voice in two Australian cities to deliver one message.

"We, as a collective, support recognition through a voice," the sports coalition said in an open letter.

Executives and players from major sporting codes, including the AFL, NRL, Football Australia, Basketball Australia, Cricket Australia, Tennis Australia, Netball Australia and Rugby Australia gathered in Sydney and Melbourne to pledge their support for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to parliament.

The open letter was delivered on Friday by sporting luminaries including national rugby league coach Mal Meninga and retired stars Jade North (Socceroos), Eddie Betts (AFL), Jason Gillespie (cricket), Cath Cox (netball), Andrew Gaze (basketball) and Jamie Pittman (boxing).

"Sport plays a significant role in reconciling Australia. It has long been a means for the inclusion and celebration of the incredible achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples," the letter said.

"We commit to using our platforms to lead conversations that promote respect, trust and goodwill between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians.

"Together we share a vision for the future as a nation that values equality, fairness, and the rights of the traditional custodians of our land is the land on which we play, love and celebrate sport in Australia."

Meninga said it was time for Indigenous peoples' voices to be heard.

"Self determination hasn't happened for our first First Peoples so we need to do things better," he told AAP.

"Sport should have a voice in what is a really significant issue in Australian history.

"It's such a multicultural society, Australia, so I don't understand why, personally as an Australian male, why we're saying no to it."

Rugby League chief executive Andrew Abdo hailed the alliance as an "important moment for the country".

"We see our role in sport and rugby league as a real opportunity to celebrate what we have, which is multiple communities, multiple cultures living in our country, promoting a real sense of unity," Abdo said.

"Sport is a language that everyone understands.

"It brings us together and if we can use that to promote and foster a better way of understanding each other and understanding that, through our differences we actually gain strength, then that can only be a positive thing."

He pointed to the NRL's own Indigenous council which has provided advice leading to positive changes in the competition.

"Doing that on a national basis is the right thing to do."

Football Australia was one of the first sporting codes to announce its support for the voice in September.

The code's chief executive James Johnson said it was the "right thing to do from a values perspective".

"Football in Australia is the most diverse and multicultural sport," Johnson told AAP.

"One of our values is to be diverse and inclusive so to bring that value to life, we thought that supporting the voice to parliament was the right thing to do.

Yes alliance campaign director Dean Parkin branded the stance a "profound statement of support" from organisations with "deep roots across every Australian community".

Adelaide, Gold Coast, Geelong, St Kilda and North Melbourne are the latest AFL clubs to put out statements on Friday, joining other clubs in endorsing the 'yes' vote.