The NRL today unveiled a stunning game-day video campaign as part of a Close the Gap Round that aims to help tackle the tragic life expectancy gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. 

As tickets went on sale today for the third annual All Stars match, which showcases the game’s year-long commitment to supporting Indigenous communities and people in need, the NRL launched a heart-felt video featuring One Community ambassadors David Peachey and Hazem El Masri.

The video package will form a central part of game-day activities during Close The Gap Round, which kicks off on Friday night with the Reconciliation Cup between the Bulldogs and Cowboys.

Other NRL Club initiatives across the week include: the Melbourne Storm launching its own Reconciliation Action Plan; clubs in Indigenous jerseys; Indigenous dance performances and traditional ceremonies; wearing Close The Gap armbands; game-day promotions and stalls; fund-raisers and numerous community events.

With the support of the Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations’ Learn. Earn. Legend! campaign, the Close The Gap Round will highlight the social issues that lead to a tragic gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the rest of Australia’s population.

The life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is more than a decade less than for other Australians. Aboriginal babies are up to three times more likely to die before the age of one than other Australian babies and Aboriginal people face much higher risks of heart disease, cancer and kidney failure.

Rugby League was the first sporting code in Australia to join the Close The Gap campaign with an inaugural Close The Gap Round in 2009. This year’s round will again continue to highlight the need to focus on key issues including Indigenous health, education, employment and life expectancy.

“Thirteen per cent of NRL players have Indigenous heritage and many have come from communities in which the opportunities for education and success are more limited than they should be,” NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, said. 

“All are part of a tragic statistic, that Indigenous Australians are more likely to die at a younger age than non-indigenous Australians. 

“It’s not genetic, it’s the result of a lack of community infrastructure and a lack of opportunity and the responsibility for change rests with all of us. 

“That is why this week we are proud to be part of the Close the Gap Round – to ensure we can all share the same opportunity in life.”

In a season in which a record six Indigenous players represented Australia in the mid-season Test victory over New Zealand, NRL Clubs this week will stage a number of events to promote the Close The Gap campaign, including: 

The Cowboys will wear a special Indigenous jersey in the annual Reconciliation Cup match against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Friday night, while Matt Bowen will host a group of students from Gilgandra and donate his playing jersey for a giveaway on the Barefoot Rugby League Show;

Bulldogs centre Jamal Idris has taken part in a campaign on behalf of the Australian Bureau of Statistics encouraging Indigenous Australians to take part in next Tuesday’s Census 2011;

The Sea Eagles will wear a jersey designed by local artist Jess Birk that depicts the Northern Beaches totem – the whale. The club will also support the GenerationOne movement to bring all Australians together to end the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in one generation. Game-day promotions will include a Welcome to Country, Indigenous dancers, didgeridoo player and a smoking ceremony. There will also be a Sea Of Hands Display on the back of the Hill which Indigenous player Ryan Mitchell will help to create;

The Newcastle Knights will wear a jersey designed by NAIDOC Aboriginal Artist of the Year Les Elvin. The club is also hosting a Close The Gap lunch featuring representatives from the eight major Local Area Land Councils, players and representatives from the NRL and DEEWR. On game-day there will be Aboriginal dance performances and Health Service providers in attendance conducting health checks;

Melbourne Storm will launch its own Reconciliation Action Plan with the players to wear black socks with the colours of the Indigenous flag across the top and Indigenous children forming a guard of honour;

The David Peachey Foundation will raise awareness in the Sharks Community Support Stand with free tickets to be given to Aboriginal community organisations and health services;

The Raiders will hold an Indigenous Health Clinic next week where 100 kids from the region will do a healthy eating and activity skills morning including receiving a T-shirt, hat, drink bottle and bag;

The Dragons hosted 50 Indigenous families at their Round 21 match against the Rabbitohs and continue to have players attend the Myimbarr Learning Centre in Wollongong, which is primarily for local Indigenous students;

Wests Tigers will host the final of the Koori Club prior to their blockbuster clash with the Dragons at the SFS;

Titans hero Preston Campbell will have a pair of signed, hand-painted boots auctioned for charity. The unworn adidas boots, painted by David Williams, CEO of the Indigenous creative agency Gilimbaa, and colleague Riki Salam will be auctioned along with a Dragons jersey signed by the 2010 Premiers, with all funds raised going to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation. Campbell and fellow Titans Indigenous All Star Ryan James will also be hosting Titans for Tomorrow workshops for school students;

Various clubs, including the Broncos and Rabbitohs, will have Reconciliation Australia running game-day stalls while clubs will run the Close The Gap TVC as well as ground announcements and wear Close The Gap tape on their sleeves.

Already One Community ambassadors David Peachey and Hazem El Masri have visited Tenant Creek, in the Northern Territory, and the outback town of Ali Curang to inspire students to ‘Eat Well, Play Well, Stay Well’, encourage them to stay in school and aspire to further education and employment through Rugby League’s “Dream Believe Achieve” program. 

The Close The Gap campaign is calling on the State and Federal Governments for a comprehensive action plan to close the gap on Indigenous health inequality by 2030.
Rugby League is the first Australian sport to launch a formal Reconciliation Action Plan and fans are encouraged to show their support for the Close the Gap campaign by signing the Close the Gap pledge at www.oxfam.org.au/closethegap.
“Rugby League has a long history of achievement when it comes to Aboriginal participation in the game. Rugby League also embodies the kind of partnerships essential to closing the gap,” said Tom Calma, the Co-Chair of the Close The Gap campaign.

“Every week in the NRL, Indigenous and non-Indigenous players come together successfully to achieve a common goal.

“Closing the life expectancy gap by 2030 requires a team effort by all Australians.”

Since the launch of Close The Gap in 2006, 150,000 Australians have pledged their support for the campaign. 

To find out more about the Close The Gap Campaign go to www.oxfam.org.au/closethegap