Australian sports unite to back Indigenous constitutional recognition

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FILE PHOTO: A depiction of the Australian Aboriginal Flag is seen on a window sill at the home of indigenous Muruwari elder Rita Wright, a member of the “Stolen Generations”, in Sydney, Australia, January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Twenty Australian sports organisations proclaimed on Friday their backing of a referendum to constitutionally recognise Indigenous people, as the country marked “Sorry Day” when it acknowledges years of injustices to Aboriginal people.

Sports including cricket, golf, motorsport, netball and badminton pledged support for a proposed “Voice to Parliament”, a consultative committee that would advise legislators on matters affecting Indigenous people.

Last week, Rugby Australia and the Australian Football League endorsed the referendum, which is likely to be held between October and December, when voters will be asked if they want to change the constitution to include the Voice.

Former sportspeople including cricketer Jason Gillespie, footballer Jade North and netballer Catherine Cox read out a statement in support of the referendum, boosting the “Yes” campaign, after some polls showed the lead tightening for them.

“By uniting to support the Yes case, the national sporting codes are sending a powerful signal that this referendum is about community and the things that lift us up as people,” Yes campaign’s Dean Parkin said.

Making up about 3.2% of Australia’s 26 million population, Aboriginal people were marginalised by British colonial rulers and are not mentioned in the 122-year-old constitution.

While a majority of Indigenous people support the Voice, some argue it is a distraction from achieving practical changes and it would not fully resolve problems affecting the community.

One Indigenous person opposed to the referendum, lawmaker Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, said the sports organisations should “stay out of politics”, Sky News reported.

Also on Friday, Indigenous leaders are meeting in Uluru – often referred to as the heart of Australia’s “Red Centre” – to mark the sixth anniversary of the advocacy group, The Uluru Statement.

A landmark gathering in 2017 of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people first called for the creation of a Voice.

“Sorry Day” commemorates the thousands of Indigenous children who were taken from their families between the early 1900s and about 1970 under a government policy to assimilate them into white society.

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