Clubs prepare to unite for ‘Close the Gap’ Round

An Indigenous Youth Day, Junior Rugby League carnival, Indigenous-inspired jerseys and Indigenous performers are among the initiatives that will showcase Rugby League’s commitment to supporting Australia’s Indigenous communities, as the NRL Clubs prepare to unite for the annual ‘Close the Gap’ Round of the Telstra Premiership (Round 24).

With the support of the Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations’ ‘Learn. Earn. Legend!’ campaign, the Close the Gap Round will see NRL Clubs work to highlight critical 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.

Statistics show that Aboriginal babies are up to three times more likely to die before the age of one than other Australian babies and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still live more than a decade less than other Australians.

Rugby League last year became the first sporting code in Australia to join the Close the Gap campaign with the inaugural Close the Gap Round, which this year will again highlight the need to focus on key areas including Indigenous health, education, employment and life expectancy.

“These gaps are a serious issue of inequality and the fact they still exist is something we must all address,” NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, said.

“They are issues we can address by working together and in association with the Close the Gap campaign we want to see all Rugby League fans support this initiative by signing up to the Close the Gap pledge and getting out to a game during the Close the Gap Round.”

Rugby League fans can sign the Close the Gap pledge at www.oxfam.org.au/closethegap.

Headlining this year’s Close the Gap Round (Round 24 of the Telstra Premiership) will be the fourth Reconciliation Cup match, between the Cowboys and the Bulldogs in Townsville (August 21).

The Round will also feature the Panthers and Rabbitohs playing in Penrith and the Knights and Broncos in Newcastle, both on Friday night (August 20).

On Saturday (August 21), the Sea Eagles host the Warriors at Brookvale Oval, the Cowboys play the Bulldogs in Townsville and the Storm tackle the Sharks in Melbourne.

On Sunday (August 22), the Raiders host the Dragons in Canberra, the Eels and Wests Tigers clash at Parramatta and, on Monday night (August 23), the Roosters host the Titans at the SFS.

NRL Clubs will stage a number of events and activities across the Round to promote the Close the Gap campaign.

“It’s really concerning that Aboriginal babies are up to three times more likely to die before the age of one than other Australian babies,” Gold Coast Titans and inaugural Indigenous All Stars captain, Preston Campbell, said.

“That’s why the Close the Gap Round is such an important campaign for everyone in Rugby League to support.

“We’ve seen with the All Stars the strong ties Rugby League has with Indigenous Australians and it would be great for all Rugby League fans to show their support for the Close the Gap campaign by signing the Close the Gap pledge and being part of the events and games taking place this week.”

Rugby League’s Close the Gap activities got underway early last week when One Community ambassadors Wendell Sailor, Mario Fenech, David Peachey and Hazem El Masri visited the Arnhem Land coastal town of Gunbalanya and Darwin to inspire students to ‘Eat Well, Play Well, Stay Well’ and help OPSM and the OneSight Foundation conduct eye checks with the largely Indigenous school population.

In communities where less than half of school students attend school each day, the visit also saw the former NRL stars speak to students about the Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations ‘Learn. Earn. Legend!’ campaign and encourage students to stay in school and aspire to further education and employment.

Co-Chair of the Close the Gap Steering Committee, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda congratulated the game of Rugby League for its commitment to the Close the Gap Round.

"The way the NRL and Clubs have embraced the Close the Gap Round is a real boost to our campaign, helping us take the message about the Indigenous health crisis to new audiences around the country,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“Every week in the NRL, Indigenous and non-Indigenous players come together to successfully achieve a common goal. That’s the kind of partnership we need across all sections of society in order close the life expectancy gap."

The 2010 Close the Gap Round will see a variety of activities conducted by NRL Clubs including:

- The Cowboys and Bulldogs will play for the Reconciliation Cup. The Cowboys will also hold their annual NASCA (National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy) Challenge, an invitational Rugby League carnival that aims to provide Indigenous children from isolated areas with an opportunity to represent their region and also enjoy a Cowboys game day experience.

- The Knights will hold an Indigenous Youth Day in the lead up to the Round which will include a mini careers expo, a cultural stand and a Rugby League clinic.

- Knights and Sea Eagles players will wear special Indigenous-inspired jerseys while Raiders game-day volunteers will wear ‘Close the Gap’ Round t-shirts. Manly players also wore a specially-designed Indigenous jersey in their Round 22 clash against Melbourne to mark World Indigenous Day.

- The Raiders will announce their team to play the Dragons at Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service.

- The Eels, Knights, Sea Eagles and Storm home games will feature Indigenous performers and/or traditional Indigenous Welcome to Country ceremonies.

- The Roosters will run their ‘Stick With It’ program which aims to encourage Indigenous students to complete given tasks in the area of healthy eating, exercise and literacy.

- The Eels will promote their ‘Blue and Gold Deadly Heart’ program which works to educate school kids about the Close the Gap campaign.

- NRL players will support the Close the Gap campaign in the lead up to the Round including Wests Tigers players attending the Koori Cup match in Campbelltown; and Dragons players spending time at Myimbarr Learning Centre in Wollongong – a centre where predominantly Indigenous students can do their homework and develop a love for learning.

- Various clubs will run a Close the Gap TVC as well as ground announcements on game day.

Rugby League 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.