FOOTBALL Federation Australia's inaugural Indigenous Football Festival kicks off in Townsville tomorrow as the governing body strives to increase participation.
The event begins with a traditional 'welcome to country' at an opening ceremony that will include the Festival's almost 200 participants, FFA National Technical Director, Han Berger, as well as FFA's Indigenous Football Development Program ambassadors, John Moriarty and Warren Mundine.
The Festival will be held over five days from 4-8 July at Brolga Park in Townsville, home of the new A-League team North Queensland Fury.
The Festival is a component of FFA's Indigenous Football Development Program, which is an integral part of the National Football Development Plan. The Indigenous Football Development Program is a 10 year national plan to increase the number of Indigenous people playing football.
"We believe we have a responsibility to encourage more young people of Indigenous background to play football as a way to improve their life through better health, better education and improved skills," said FFA CEO, Ben Buckley.
"Indigenous players from other sports show that success in sport has a very positive effect on the local community and we want football to have the same impact.
"Of course, we also hope that we will find more talented young players who can go on to play at the highest level such as the Qantas Socceroos and Westfield Matildas, as well as the Hyundai A-League, the Westfield W-League and our other competitions."
The 10 year aim of the program is to have at least 5% of players in all national teams and major competitions of Indigenous background.
Buckley said the Indigenous Football Festival is the "heart" of the program.
"The most effective development method is for people to play the game, and any coach will tell you that development is more enduring if there is a sense of purpose.
"The Indigenous Football Festival provides that purpose, and gives young people from communities something to aspire to participate in each year."
In 2009, the Indigenous Football Festival will comprise 16 teams drawn from communities from Dubbo and Moree (NSW), Shepparton (VIC), Townsville (QLD), Perth (WA), Adelaide (SA), Alice Springs and Borroloola in the Gulf Country (NT) and Hobart and Launceston (TAS).
There are eight boys and four girls teams participating in the Festival, with the children aged between 13-16 years. They have been selected to represent their community following visits from Moriarty and Mundine and Indigenous coach mentors Travis Dodd (Adelaide United), Kyah Simon (Central Coast Mariners/Westfield Matilda) and Lachlan Wright (Qantas Futsalroos captain).
The twelve teams will participate in the football tournament as well as coaching clinics and team building activities at the Festival.
"We are thrilled that there has been so much enthusiasm for the Festival within the Indigenous community, particularly given it is only the first year.
"However, our work in this area is broader than the Festival. We are committed to ensuring that the benefits of being involved in this program continue for young Indigenous people after the Festival concludes," Buckley said.
This includes encouraging young Indigenous people to continue playing football, for FFA talent identification program to incorporate Indigenous communities and for more accredited coaching and referee education programs to be delivered in Indigenous communities.