New study aims to bust myths about Indigenous sports stars

16 June 2014

A University of Sydney study aims to bust common myths about the remarkable achievements of Indigenous Australians in sport.

Chief investigator Dr John Evans will spend the next three years identifying the socio-cultural and teaching factors that have encouraged and enhanced Indigenous sports stars' excellence at the highest levels of sport.

"The existing myths are that Indigenous players have freakish ability and are naturally gifted, ignoring the hard work and years of practice that are required to be an elite athlete," said Dr Evans, of the Faculty of Education and Social Work.

Indigenous athletes account for between 10-14 per cent of the elite player population in Rugby League and Australian Rules*, while Indigenous Australians account for 2.5 per cent of the total Australian population.

"We are looking at AFL and Rugby League due the extraordinary level of success in those sports by Indigenous athletes," said Dr Evans.

"We will work with current and recently retired players. We will identify the socio-cultural and pedagogical factors through interviews and data collection by isolating the factors that lead to success."

Despite significant social disadvantage and alarming underachievement in educational outcomes, Indigenous Australians achieve extraordinary success across high-profile sports. Yet such success is often explained as a result of inherited racial characteristics.

Dr Evans' study will go beyond the myths to explore this achievement as a process of learning, to demand inquiry into how this learning occurs and what socio-cultural factors facilitate it.

The study has received funding of $327,033 from the Australian Research Council, under the Discovery Indigenous Grants scheme.

Media enquiries: Luke O'Neill: (02) 9114 1961, 0481 012 600,

*Australian Government, 2012; Australian Sports Commission, 2010; C. Harvey & Halloran, 2010; Sheedy, 2010.