NRL launches Close the Gap Round

The Reconciliation Cup match between the Cowboys and Bulldogs in Townsville will kick-off a round of Indigenous celebrations and activities as Rugby League unites to help close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Rugby League today became the first national sporting code to join the Close the Gap campaign which is Australia’s largest ever campaign to improve the life expectancy and health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, today joined with chair of the Close the Gap campaign, Mr Tom Calma, Chairman of the ARL Indigenous Council, Mr William ‘Smiley’ Johnstone, NRL stars Chris Sandow, Petero Civoniceva and Mark O’Meley and members of the All Blacks Under 6 team and Darlington Public School as Rugby League became the first major sporting code to pledge to ‘Close the Gap’.

Today’s ceremony at the Redfern Community Centre marks the start of the build-up to the ‘Close the Gap’ round of the Telstra Premiership, in which Rugby League will celebrate its Indigenous history and showcase its work with Indigenous communities.

The Close the Gap round, Round 23 of the Telstra Premiership, will be played from August 14 -17 and features the annual Reconciliation Cup match between the Cowboys and Bulldogs in Townsville with matches to also be played in Brisbane, Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra.

Already, the Newcastle Knights have unveiled a one-off playing strip for their match against Melbourne as part of a week-long celebration recognising the contribution Indigenous role models have made to the Knights and Hunter Valley.

The round will also feature a series of matches that will have a significant bearing on the race for the Telstra Premiership Finals Series, including the Rabbitohs-Titans match at ANZ Stadium and the Broncos-Panthers clash at Suncorp Stadium.

“This is going to be an exciting round of footy but, more importantly, it will put the focus on the inspiring work our players do in Indigenous communities,” Mr Gallop said today.

“Just recently we have seen the impact the visits of Greg Inglis and Preston Campbell have had on their home towns and as a game we want to make a similar impact in raising awareness about Indigenous health issues.

“Already this year we launched the game’s Eat Well, Play Well, Stay Well health initiative, which included a special focus on Indigenous communities, and our support for the Close The Gap campaign will add to the work of that program.

“We want to help provide a level playing field for Indigenous Australians, who today live over a decade less than other Australians and who face higher risks of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and kidney failure.

“This is an opportunity for everyone in the game to celebrate Rugby League’s proud Indigenous heritage and one of the best ways to do that is to pledge to help close the life expectancy gap.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Chair of the Close the Gap Campaign, Mr Tom Calma, welcomed the NRL’s support and the opportunity to raise awareness of this important issue with a wide audience.

“Closing the life expectancy gap by 2030 requires a team effort by all Australians – Indigenous and non-Indigenous,” Mr Calma said.

“Solutions need to be devised that involve Indigenous people in the decision making and gives them control over the delivery of the health services in their communities.

“Partnering with the NRL and the naming of a dedicated Close the Gap round provides the campaign with a great opportunity to take that message to a wide audience and to raise awareness of the challenges faced by Indigenous people growing up in this country.”

Eleven per cent of NRL players have Indigenous heritage (ahead of a national average of 3% of the population), including some of the game’s biggest stars in Johnathan Thurston, Greg Inglis, Scott Prince, Nathan Merritt, Sam Thaiday, Matt Bowen, Chris Sandow and Jamal Idris.

For more information about the Close The Gap campaign, log on to www.oxfam.org.au/closethegap.