Indigenous athletes gaining recognition step by step in the sport world
Indigenous communities around the globe have in recent years been seen to increasingly speak out and defend their rights, traditions and belief systems. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, the recent progress I have witnessed with the Copa IndoAmericana, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and the World Games should be underlined.
In 2013, the Peace and Sport Event of the Year Award went to the Gol Iluminado Foundation for the work that it had implemented for the indigenous peoples of Chile. Since then, the Foundation has developed the ‘Copa IndoAmericana’ – a sport for hope indigenous football tournament for the national tribes of the Americas, supported by the Chilean Government. This inaugural Copa IndoAmericana event will be held prior to the 2015 Copa America taking place in Chile from 11 June to 4 July. The Copa IndoAmericana is a direct result of the award they were given and the Foundation’s efforts to bring awareness and support to indigenous culture.
In support to the cause, last month saw the announcement of the world’s first Indigenous Games at the UN Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. With their history as a national project led by the Intertribal Council (ITC), the Jogos dos Povos Indígenas were first launched in 1999 to then become the first World Indigenous Games. In late October this year over 2,000 indigenous athletes from 30 countries are expected to participate in this first global edition of the games taking place in Palmas, Tocantins, Brazil. The event represents a major step towards local recognition of the rich diversity that makes up a nation and the joint efforts between the ITC, the Brazilian Ministry of Sport, the Municipality of Palmas and more recently UNDP. As well as peoples from all the Americas, delegations will be arriving from Australia, Japan, Norway, Russia, China and the Philippines. From Brazil alone, 24 indigenous ethnicities will be taking part.
And finally, last Saturday 9 May 2015 marked a long-awaited change to the Australian Olympic Committee’s constitution. Under the leadership of its President, IOC Vice-President John Coates, the AOC set a historical mark by ensuring that Australia’s indigenous Olympians were recognized at its Annual General Meeting in Sydney. Coates asked all member sports to adopt the amendment to recognize “the heritage, culture and contribution of our nation’s first people, and to give practical support to indigenous reconciliation through sport.” The vote was unanimous, passing the amendment by acclamation.
With the support of elite athletes who have marked history such as Cathy Freeman, the AOC President acknowledged this being but one small step in a larger race. Coates put this historic step into perspective stating that “There is no better way to bring people together than through sport” and went on to highlight the importance of going even further by giving disadvantaged members of society a chance to not only play sport but to get a decent education.
This move forward has the support of Prime Minister Tony Abbott who commented in a supportive message: “The Australian Government is promoting a national conversation about constitutional recognition because it is something that will complete our constitution, rather than change it. My hope is that this will be another unifying moment in the history of our country.”
These recent events offer dignity and recognition to neglected minorities through sport. I am pleased to see an increasing space for minorities to be accepted and represented through local initiatives, awards and AOC constitutional change. Creating dialogue and embracing our diversity is something to strive towards, and to support my colleague Coates, sport is without a doubt a unique tool to bring people together. I look forward to the first Indigenous Games – a true celebration of our global heritage.