'Soccer is dominating our TV screens. But Indigenous players are still being left out.'

Right now on our TV screens, soccer is at the forefront - and for good reason.

The 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup is underway down under, with Australia just one of 32 nations competing in this year's tournament. Over a million people are expected to attend the games, and already records are being broken in terms of merchandise purchased and ticket sales. And it's about damn time

It appears the female comps are finally being given the recognition they deserve, and are progressing on the journey to getting the same attention as their male counterparts.

Although this is a fact well worth celebrating, there's another equally important conversation to be had while soccer is at the forefront of public consciousness. And it's about Indigenous visibility in the sport.

Allira Toby is an Aboriginal A-League footballer. Speaking to Mamamia, she says it's great to see the positive response to the Women's World Cup in Australia. She just hopes that in the future we can extend the same attention to uplifting First Nations soccer players too.

"Often there are very few Indigenous players on the field - both in A-League and in local clubs. Indigenous kids and their communities are lacking the chance to play because of money and access. And that's not fair," says Allira. 

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From the very beginning, soccer was in Allira's blood. 

"My dad used to play, all my siblings play and since I was young, football has been a big part of my life," Allira tells Mamamia.

Growing up in Ipswich, Queensland, Allira played for a local club just up the road from her. And for many years, that club was a community for Allira and her family. She wishes all First Nations kids had access to that same opportunity. 

"My brother still plays for that club, and we were there my whole childhood essentially. That team environment fostered a really close community feel, and that's what sport can bring people, particularly for youth."

Soccer ranks among the most popular participation sports in the nation. But not all kids have access to play soccer. That's something Allira wants to see change.

"For First Nations people, it's tough to get the opportunity to even play in grassroots soccer clubs. We've seen some good progress in other codes like AFL and NRL to have programs designed with inclusion and accessibility in mind, but the same opportunities are very limited for soccer. There's a lack of funding, lack of pathways, and also a complete lack of affordability."

For some time now, Allira has been doing work with John Moriarty Football (JMF), a program run by the Moriarty Foundation. 


JMF is Australia's longest-running and most successful Indigenous football initiative, with more than 2000 Indigenous girls and boys across 23 public schools in 19 remote and regional communities in NSW, NT and QLD participating in the program.

"My favourite thing is to see the pathways created for First Nations kids in those remote communities. Things like that can be pretty life-changing for a lot of those kids out there," Allira explains.

Aboriginal A-League footballer Allira Toby. Image: Supplied.


Ros Moriarty is the Honorary Managing Director and Co-Founder of the Moriarty Foundation.

"We established JMF 11 years ago as a reaction to the fact there weren't near enough Indigenous representatives in football, nor was there enough funding for local programs," Ros tells Mamamia. 

JMF was founded in 2012 by Yanyuwa man John Moriarty AM - the first Indigenous footballer to be selected for Australia - and his son James Moriarty. Ever since JMF has been helping create opportunities for First Nations kids to play soccer. One aspect of it is helping the families of these kids in remote areas afford the sport.

"So many families simply can't afford to provide their kids with a club registration or boots. And we've now got our teams driving kids seven hours to their games because they want to be part of something," says Ros. 

"We're in the community, of the community, employing the community and supporting families to unlock the potential of their own children."

Recently JMF and GoFundMe have launched a new campaign, called 'Indigenous Footballers Call Time On Inequality'.

Like with every World Cup competition, right now there's a big focus on the legacy that the games will leave behind. But as it stands, Indigenous players are still being left out of the conversation.

Currently, JMF says it has seen no evidence of funding for grassroots Indigenous football programs to increase participation, ensure equitable access to the game or create meaningful social change within the $291 million Legacy '23' initiative. This is a strategic plan run by Football Australia and a plan that is backed by Federal and State Governments to grow women's football. 


Ultimately, Ros wants to see more and more First Nations female soccer players come up the ranks.

"The young Indigenous girls that are coaching or playing with us are seriously incredible. The level of talent is huge. They just need the financial backing and support to be able to achieve their passion."

John Moriarty alongside soccer player Shadeene Evans. Image: Supplied.


JMF Coach Tiffany Stanley (in blue) alongside a JMF student. Image: Supplied.

For Allira Toby, she wants to see more Indigenous players in the A-League - both male and female. The biggest reason for this is - "you can't be what you can't see".


"For me growing up, my sports idol was Cathy Freeman, who is amazing. She was pretty much the only First Nations athlete on television really. I want that reality to change now for kids these days and in the future," Allira explains.

"I'm a big believer personally in 'you can't be what you can't see'. I really didn't have many people that looked like me growing up on the TV or anywhere really. That's why we need to change the perspective of First Nations kids and let them see people who look like them actually do really amazing things."

As for why it's crucial to be having this conversation now?

Given soccer is on all our screens and dominating the news cycle, there is no better time to continue paving the way for further equality.

"The Women's World Cup is blowing up a lot more than people anticipated. Now is a good time to put the spotlight on what is lacking in order for us to be able to move forward," says Allira.

"Just looking at women's sports in Australia and the attention they're rightly getting, I'm feeling hopeful. And we can keep that momentum going to make the game even better for all."

If you would like to contribute to the John Moriarty Football X GoFundMe Indigenous Footballers Call Time on Inequality campaign, you can do so here. You can also find out more about JMF here

Image: Supplied.

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