Seven of Australia’s largest sporting codes are preparing to unite and campaign for the Indigenous Voice to parliament, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese personally moving to secure the support of the sporting codes.
The AFL, NRL, Rugby Australia, Netball Australia, Football Australia, Cricket Australia and Tennis Australia – seven of the most powerful Australian sporting leagues – are working on a co-ordinated campaign they hope will launch mid-year.
AFL boss Gillon McLachlan and NRL boss Peter V’landys. Their codes will team up with others to support an Indigenous Voice to parliament.Credit:Getty
October 14 is firming as the date for the referendum to be held, soon after the AFL and NRL grand finals and before racing season begins, with November 18 pencilled in as the most likely backup date.
Four senior sources in the major sporting codes and two in the federal government confirmed discussions about a joint campaign to support the Voice were underway and Albanese had been personally involved.
The campaign would be launched mid-year, once the various sporting codes have finished consultations with current and past professional players, the clubs and other internal stakeholders, and after the legislation required to hold the referendum has passed through the federal parliament.
Current and past Indigenous stars such as the AFL’s Adam Goodes and former NRL player Johnathan Thurston, both of whom have expressed support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Voice to parliament, are among the big names being discussed by the sporting codes as ambassadors.
Adam Goodes is one of the Indigenous sports stars being discussed as a possible ambassador for the Voice.Credit:AFR
The matter was discussed last month at a meeting of some of the members of the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports, the peak body that represents the seven codes who between them have 8.95 million participants and 16,000 clubs.
The legislation to establish the referendum is due to be introduced to parliament in the final two weeks of March and the government expects it will pass by the end of June.
By coming together as a group of seven, the codes hope to maximise their impact and help build momentum for a successful Yes vote.
The most recent Resolve Political Monitor poll showed support for the Voice has narrowed, with 58 per cent of voters in favour and 42 per cent opposed to the exact wording of the proposed constitutional amendment. That compared with 60 per cent support in December and January and 64 per cent last August and September.
Resolve pollster Jim Reed said signing up the seven major sporting codes could be a great positive as it would “reach a lot of people, they’re credible, and [the players] are heroes to people”.
Reed said the support of the NRL could make a difference in Queensland, which was the “least positive about the Voice according to our last poll”.
He added there was a risk that “elites” being involved in the campaign could switch ordinary voters off but “I think on balance it would probably work”.
Privately, key AFL figures acknowledge that the Voice is all but certain to be supported, but they stressed they first had to secure the approval of Indigenous players and the clubs.
A spokesman said once that process is completed, the AFL’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council would make a recommendation to the AFL Commission.
A senior NRL source, who asked not to be named so they could speak freely, said signing up the major sporting codes could be crucial to getting the Yes vote over the line.
“It’s about having maximum impact and working together. It would make sense to launch after the bill has passed, but they don’t have a date yet,” they said.
“The NRL is massively advanced on this, but I think for the AFL it is more problematic.”
The AFL has endured a succession of damaging scandals, including Collingwood’s Do Better report and the Hawthorn inquiry into the alleged mistreatment of First Nations players and their families.
Football Australia announced its in-principle support for the Voice in September.
Its chief executive James Johnson said at the time: “In supporting the Uluru Statement, we are enjoining the voice of the Australian football community, and the rich tapestry of all its people, as we live our ongoing pledge to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
A Rugby Australia spokesman said the organisation was supportive of the Voice but was still working with stakeholders to develop a public stance.
Tennis Australia announced its support for the Voice during the Australian Open in January, saying it wanted to “work closely with members, players and Indigenous elders in the communities in which we play to help realise the aspirations of the Uluru Statement of the Heart”.
The National Basketball League formally announced its support for the Voice in November last year. Comment was sought from Netball Australia.
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