Postcolonialism and Sport: How racialised representations of Aboriginal athletes impede professional sport coaching opportunities

Stream: Panel 60 - Public Policy & Social Justice: Indigenous Rights in Australia 2 & Politics of Multiculturalism in Asia
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 9.00 am – 10.30 am


In a 2014 episode of the ABC satirical-sketch show Black Comedy, viewers meet Jerome Williams—an Aboriginal teenager ‘born tragically with no sporting ability whatsoever’. Offered a sports-scholarship to an elite private school ‘sight unseen’, the narrator shares the jarring news that Williams is, ‘against all odds’, a desperately untalented athlete. Deliberately antagonistic, humorous and provocative, the Indigenous writers of this mockumentary are caricaturing a pervasive, racialised social perception: that Aboriginal Australians are genetically predisposed to sporting prowess. Alongside innate sporting talent, this enduring narrative also sees Aboriginal athletes as pre-disposed to a particular style of play, full of trickery, speed and magic. In turn, this leads to the typecasting of Aboriginal athletes as racially more suitable to particular positions, like those characterised by speed, flair and spontaneity, rather than by leadership acumen and intellectual skill. Academic literature swells with examples of how these essentialised and racialised representations play out for Aboriginal athletes. In this paper, we look at how these racialised representations effect Aboriginal coaches. Premised on extensive interviews with Aboriginal Australian coaches, we move that representations of Aboriginal athletes as lacking leadership and sporting-intellect on the field, stifles the professional career progression of Aboriginal sporting coaches. By engaging with postcolonial insights that recognise the enduring effects of colonisation and marginalisation, this paper sheds light on the ways in which racialised representations of Aboriginal athletes perpetuates ongoing discrimination of aspiring Aboriginal elite and semi-professional coaches.


Nicholas Apoifis (Presenter), UNSW
Nicholas is a Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at UNSW. He writes on radical approaches to fieldwork, progressive social movements and marginalised communities. He is the author of 'Anarchy in Athens: An ethnography of militancy, emotions and violence', (Oct)2016 by Manchester University Press. His current research examines the experiences of Indigenous sports coaches (globally).

Andrew Bennie, Western Sydney University
Andrew is the Director of Health and Physical Education at Western Sydney University. His latest research focuses on (1) pathways into sport coaching for Indigenous people (globally), and (2) the use of motivational strategies to increase physical activity during primary (elementary) school physical education. Andrew is a Level 2 accredited coach and has coached football (soccer), field hockey, touch football, and athletics at school and community clubs.

Demelza Marlin, WSU/UNSW
Demelza Marlin received her PhD in Sociology from the University of New South Wales in 2010. She has published articles on a range of topics including, secularisation, the use of spiritual language in classical sociology, hospitality and, more recently, the meaning of community. She is co-author of On Bondi Beach, an ethnographic study of forms of belonging, with Ann Game and Andrew Metcalfe, and is a regular contributor to their popular Sociology blog, Living in Relation. She continues to examine questions about community and social participation through a joint UNSW-WSU funded project examining the experiences of Aboriginal Australian sports coaches.