The National Rugby League round 23 was dedicated to Close the Gap, Australia’s largest campaign to improve the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Nearly 200,000 Australians have signed the Close the Gap pledge and campaign organisers are hoping NRL fans will swell that number by pledging their support at oxfam.org.au/nrl.
“Shockingly, the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is more than a decade less than for other Australians,” said Close the Gap co-chair Kirstie Parker.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies are up to three times less likely to see their first birthday than other Australian babies.
“Heart disease is the single biggest killer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Other serious but preventable health problems include lung disease, kidney failure and eye and ear problems.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples often have poor access to health care, and their health is also affected by things such as poor housing, lower levels of education, unemployment and discrimination,” said Ms Parker, who is also co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, who also co-chairs Close the Gap campaign, described the NRL support as tremendously significant.
“Around 12 per cent of all current NRL players are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. This is a remarkable statistic when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 3 per cent of the total population,” Commissioner Gooda said.
“Rugby League teaches us the value of teamwork and supporting your mates. Similarly, we need a team effort by all Australians to help close the life expectancy gap,” Commissioner Gooda said.
The NRL became the first sporting code in Australia to sign up to the Close the Gap campaign in 2009. This weekend will mark the sixth time the NRL has dedicated a round to Close the Gap.
Close the Gap Campaign is a coalition of Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous health and human rights organisations.
At this year’s National Close the Gap day, approximately 150,000 people participated in 1,300 events across the country showing their support for closing the gap.