Fifteen years ago, as a bright-eyed sports science major, I had a vision of saving the world through sport. Like many Australians, I’d witnessed first-hand the uplifting effects of a hometown Olympics in Sydney and carried this optimism into my higher education. While I didn’t have the specifics figured out, one thing was for sure; sport, athletes and the associated culture was key to righting so many of the injustices I perceived in society.
Fast forward to 2021 and we’re on the cusp of another Olympiad (I mean… maybe) in an increasingly divisive era and sport’s role in society seems clearer than ever. I look around at the change I still hope to see and I remain confident in the power and potential of sport to set us all on the right path.
My faith is restored and cemented by the likes of Patty Mills, NBA Champion, three-time Olympian and proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian, using his talent and influence to create Indigenous Basketball Australia (IBA). The IBA forms part of his ongoing commitment to using the power of sport to create pathways and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth to “own their story”. Established to overcome the many challenges and barriers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face in the current Australian basketball systems and structures, the innovative IBA model seeks to instil basketball skills, values, and wellness at the grassroots level to give them every opportunity to thrive, both on and off the court.
IBA has gained global attention, forging alliances with the NBA, global performance brand Under Armour, world’s largest basketball equipment supplier Spalding, leading Australian retailer Coles and dedicated specialty officiating brands, Ref Warehouse and ARCHER Officials. Fused by their shared goal of unlocking the full potential of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, IBA will deliver programs and competitions that will be the first of its kind in Australian sporting history.
“The idea of Indigenous Basketball Australia is a product of my own personal journey and its purpose is to impart this experience to help support, motivate and inspire the next generation.” says Patty Mills. “I am incredibly humbled by the calibre of partners that have come on board to support IBA. Together, we are building a one-of-a-kind program and creating a safe and positive environment that will allow my people to truly flourish. It takes a team to bring a concept like this to life and I can wholeheartedly say the IBA has a winning one. See you on our court soon. ”
Early last year, I invited Casey Conway, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Rugby Australia to co-write a letter for Men’s Health on this topic, a process that also renewed that hope and strengthened the resolve that ignited my career.
As Casey nailed in the drafting of the letter, sport provides a sense of purpose and belonging that leads to lasting physical, mental and social health outcomes. We know that using sport as a tool for social inclusion can not only have a positive impact on an individual’s health, but benefit the community as a whole, so we must ensure we approach it using a lens of diversity and equality, ensuring we provide opportunities for everyone to participate, regardless of their individual circumstances.
When we think about athletes as role models, we must look at why they are held in such high esteem. Role models are those that possess qualities and traits to which we ourselves aspire. They have worked hard to get where they are and overcome countless obstacles to reach the top. They are dedicated, they work hard and they get up when they fall.
In Casey’s previous life as a social worker with disengaged youth, he worked with young Australians to identify who and what they aspired to be. An overwhelming number said athletes. With this observation came a tremendous responsibility.
We know that people from minority communities (disability, LGBTQ, Multicultural and First Nations) participate in sport at a much lower rate than the rest of the population. So, we must address the barriers they face, whether it be racism, ableism, homophobia or a combination of these things. Sport, the media and the relevant administrative and corporate bodies hold powerful positions in society to address the imbalance of representation.
At Rugby Australia, Casey and his team have a philosophy called #PartOfMore that uses the power of storytelling to share the impact Rugby has in people’s lives, on and off the field. At sneakers, we remain similarly committed to bringing you aspiration and inspiration through wide-ranging storytelling.
Australia prides itself on the rich diversity of our cultures. Our combined hope in 2021 and beyond is that we can make sport and health accessible to everyone. And that those we see on the field, within these articles and in positions of influence, reflect that diversity. That way, we all win.