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AFL West Coast Eagles Club soars to new heights with United Nations SDGs

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

By Dr Renée Ralph, Co-Founder, The Brilliant Foundation

AUSTRALIA - United Nations Association of Australia (WA) (UNAAWA) held its second Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Business Forum of 2021. The forum was a resounding success with over 100 participants in attendance at West Coast Eagles Club, Mineral Resources Park, Laithlain.

This was the first ever SDGs forum in Australia featuring the sports industry, and it has taken three years for West Coast Eagles and United Nations (UN) in Western Australia (WA) to officially launch this partnership. The forum explored the issues of SDGs in relation to the sports arena and how local government, community leaders in WA can help transform businesses to deliver positive social and environmental outcomes.

Photo : Nic Naitanui, West Coast Eagles Australian Football League (AFL) 2020 Club Champion; Founder of Naitanui Academy and Author of Little Nic's Big Day

Dr Sandy Chong, President of UNAAWA and Harvard alumna, facilitated the event with the Honourable Dr Tony Buti MLA Minister for Finance; Lands; Sport and Recreation; Citizenship and Multicultural Interests presiding; Russell Gibbs, Chairman, West Coast Eagles and Nic Naitanui, West Coast Eagles Australian Football League (AFL) 2020 Club Champion, who zoomed in online (abiding to quarantine rules and regulations after a recent inter-state game).

Other special guests speakers included:

Michelle Cowan, Australian Rules Football Coach who was the inaugural head coach of the Fremantle Football Club in the AFL Women's competition. Michelle is currently new head of Operations and Player Wellbeing, with West Coast Eagles AFLW.

Dr Alec O’Connell, Headmaster of Scotch College

Professor Sophia Nimphius, School of Medical and Health Sciences from Edith Cowan University


Dr. Sandy Chong, President, United Nations Association of Australia (WA) is passionate about leadership that is benevolent, giving and inspiring. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

17 Sustainable Development Goals are as follows: 1. No poverty 2. Zero hunger 3. Good health and well-being 4. Quality education 5. Gender equality 6. Clean water and sanitation 7. Affordable and clean energy 8. Decent work and economic growth 9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure 10. Reduced inequalities 11. Sustainable cities and communities 12. Responsible consumption and production 13. Climate action 14. Life below water 15. Life on land 16. Peace, justice and strong institution 17. Partnerships for the goals

Russell Gibbs, Chairman of West Coast Eagles Board of Directors stated that West Coast Eagles as a professional elite sports club is extremely pleased to have made the decision to embrace the United Nations SDGs. He stated that as a premium club it has a role to play in the community and “our responsibility to take the lead in embracing SDGs which aligns with West Coast Eagles values. The AFL reaches to our Australian community at grassroots levels, from workers, sporting clubs and charities and continues to do so in the future.”

Photo : Honourable Dr Tony Buti MLA Minister for Finance; Lands; Sport and Recreation; Citizenship and Multicultural Interests

Dr Tony Buti mentioned that his focus has always been supporting grassroots sporting activities, utilising and finding ways to empower younger people. He said that he is a Dockers supporter, a member of Armadale; and is extremely supportive of West Coast Eagles, an elite sports club who is the first sporting organisation in Australia to embrace UN SDGs.

Dr Tony Buti also highlighted the development of women’s game in AFL making progress and ensuring kids’ sport program affordable so that all kids can play sport. There should be no barriers to playing sport for our youth. The community should be able to help our First Nations Peoples, marginalised communities and children with disabilities. He hopes the Special Olympics will takes place in Perth, Western Australia and expressed ardently that the 17 SDGs are close to his heart.

Dr Sandy Chong posed the question to the guest speakers which of the 17 SDGs resonated with them?

Photo: Michelle Cowan is currently new head of Operations and Player Wellbeing, with West Coast Eagles AFLW.

Michelle Cowan stated that SDG 3 – Good health and well-being struck a chord with her. Having good physical and mental health will allow an individual to fulfil their potential in life and fulfil the goals that they want to achieve.

Professor Sophia Nimphius felt that SDG 5 – Gender Equality was essential for girls’ and women’s sport in the industry so that females can feel empowered in what they do.

Dr Alec O’Connell stated that SDG 1 – Ending Poverty was essential. Alec cited the Segregation Policy example in America, where African Americans in the 1920s to 1940s were not allowed to swim in the public swimming pools and only the White Americans could swim. In that environment, Alec highlighted that the youths who were deliberately segregated did not have an existing network to build upon compared to the kids that could swim in the public pools. It was not only their physical well-being that was compromised, it was their future where the Black Americans did not have the connections and framework that could support them throughout their growing up years. Networks are vital for our Australian youth to survive and thrive.

Photo Credit : West Coast Eagles - Naitanui Academy recently played at Optus Stadium earlier this week.

Nic Naitanui agreed with Michelle that SDG 3 is important to him and emphasised that having a healthy and eating lifestyle is essential to his well-being. Nic also hoped to end poverty with SDG 1. He felt that in his experience, football has helped him to provide for himself and he hope to break the poverty cycle in his community. Recently, Naitanui watched in the sidelines whilst his Naitanui Academy team played at Optus Stadium.

Dr Sandy Chong asked how sports have helped the community? Have any changes occurred in sports?

Nic Naitanui said he has been to Kenya and Israel and has seen children being active in sports and being healthy develops empowerment, empathy and a sense of belonging. He has experienced this positiveness in the South Pacific where he comes from. Now with West Coast Eagles leading the way with UN SDGs, the change has already occurred, even for him, wearing a uniform with the UN logo imprinted on it.

Photo : Professor Sophia Nimphius, School of Medical and Health Sciences from Edith Cowan University

Professor Sophia Nimphius said that she is inspired by the new sports in the Olympics such as surfing, skateboarding, karate, BMX freestyle that are reinventing the games and reinvigorating youth. That is the heart of the being involved in sports where the youth can participate fully.

Sophia mentioned as an American, Title XI Act in USA, equal education was agreed in 1972 and that meant that in the sports programs had to be equitable too for women.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces, among other statutes, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Title IX states:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

This interlink was essential for women that offered a voice and influence that they didn’t have previously.

Photo : Dr Alec O’Connell, Headmaster of Scotch College

Dr Alec O’Connell said that the health and benefits in sports reduces obesity and the children growing up doing sports, will have fun with friends and a lifestyle that they can carry through in life. It also develops physical and mental health.

Photo credit : Womens AFL

Michelle Cowan shared the gender equality aspect is shifting in particular with AFL women’s team that was launched in 2020. There are currently 18 AFL ladies team and at grassroots level AFLW is being livestream in our TV living rooms is a dream come true for her. Broadcasting is huge for AFLW, there are female coaches now, pathways for women to coach at the highest level and there are opportunities for everybody. As a kid she always wanted to play AFL but there were no avenues for women, now, the possibilities are endless.

Dr Sandy Chong shared that she leaned towards sport at a young age when her dad, a military man made his kids run 2.4km every Sunday and the weekend was spent playing basketball and badminton. They were exhausted after each physical activity, however, she realised that it taught her resilience, team work and collaboration skills when she grew up.

What can sports help to achieve?

For the future, being part of the sporting industry and embracing UN SDGs, Nic Naitanui said he is mindful and consumes healthy drinks in public when he is in front of younger children. He will not have soft drinks, instead he will have water.

He likes the UNAAWA tagline Inform. Inspire. Engage and states that it is good to have other partners to help in this cause.

Photo credit : The West Australian

Personally, being an AFL footy player has opened another set of skills that he has developed. Nic has built deeper connections with the community, he has learnt how to talk comfortably in front of a camera and the opportunities that he has been given, he is grateful for them in Australia. He also said that he has become financially independent and can care for his parents and family.

Alec O’Connell states that Perth Glory, Scorchers use the facilities at Scotch College and stated that it cannot just be BHP and the bigger organisations to keep sponsoring as funding is limited in WA. He said: “We need to be creative with our partners.” Scotch has partnerships with their sister school and sports can be the hook, where sporting clubs can do so much and build deep respect for the community.

Professor Sophia Nimphius shared that the partnership with ECU, West Coast Eagles and the work that they do are currently linked.

Nic Naitanui said that sports can be a platform that stamps out racism. Racism is unacceptable and change is occurring for a kinder and respectful world. Nic Naitanui said he wrote a book titled Little Nic’s Big Day with illustrations from Fatima Anaya, the book is about Nic’s first day of school.

As a Fijian-Australian, Naitanui originally had a tough time at school. He looked different from the other kids in Perth and his family spoke a different language and ate different meals. Through football he was able to break through that fear and now he wants to share some of the lessons he has learned with Aussie kids.

Dr Tony Buti said as a physical education teacher in his past life, activity has always been important to him and the barriers to sport is the cost that needs to be addressed.

Dr Alec O’Connell states that there are 36 Indigenous Scholarship available at Scotch College. Also, no one is born racist, it is the environment – school, home and TV that needs to stamp racism.

Photo Credit : Forbes

Dr Sandy Chong said the Special Olympics is hoping to host the World Games in 2027 in Perth, Western Australia and right from the start they were using the SDGs goals as their benchmark. In doing so, the Special Olympics team is making sure their decision making process is aligned in meeting with these SDGs goals and to get the bid in, to win the bid, and to host the game in Perth.

Photo credit : The West Australian Perth, Western Australia

Dr Sandy Chong also stated that on the industry level, from Federal, State and Local Government, community organisations and ASX companies, it is pleasing to know that in Australia, we are all now using the SDGs as a benchmark to make sure that everything we do, is now making positive impact on these SDGs goals. These are exciting times indeed.

The evening ended with networking and university students chatting with professional and industry leaders.

Photo (From left to right) : Ryan, Alexander Circosta, Daniel, Dr Sandy Chong, Honourable Dr Tony Buti MLA Minister for Finance; Lands; Sport and Recreation; Citizenship and Multicultural Interests, Nikola, Michael D'Souza, President of The Burmese Association of Western Council, Dr Z. Nau, Dr Renée Ralph and, Associate Professor Amy Wei Tian, Curtin University

Photo : United Nations Volunteers with Dr Sandy Chong, President, United Nations Association of Australia (WA)

Photo (Right to Left) : Elizabeth Lang, CEO, Diversity Focus with guests.

Photo : Dr Renée Ralph (left) with Associate Professor, Amy Wei Tan, School of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Business and Law, Curtin University and Founding Member, The Brilliant Foundation.

Your Brilliant Feedback

1. How many UN SDG goals are there?

2. How many countries have signed up with UN SDG?

3. What book did Nic Naitanui write and launch in 2019? What was it about?

4. Which UN SDG resonate with you?


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