Todd Sigalas (left) and Kydan Atkinson, photo: James Henry
Fifteen-year-old Kydan Atkinson describes himself as 'a proud Aboriginal boy from the Yorta Yorta tribe' near Shepparton. Hailing from Mooroopna, he lives with his two nans and brother and plays footy for the local Mooroopna Cats.
Several years ago, the talented junior was drafted into Richmond Football Club’s Next Generation Academy (NGA). This AFL initiative was set up to provide opportunities for children from Indigenous and multicultural backgrounds to enter elite talent pathways where they are traditionally underrepresented. However, given many will not go on to be drafted from those pathways, the academies also provide young footballers with an educational program that incorporates leadership and other critical life skills.
Last year, Kydan was honoured with the captaincy of the Next Generation Academy’s under 15 cohort. In April, he joined 34 of his 13-15-year-old peers at Punt Road for a special training session as part of the combined NGA football and education program.
The session, part of Richmond Football Club’s partnership with the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation through the Love the Game program, was delivered by SALT, a sport and life training provider. It covered a wide range of issues including gambling, peer pressure, alcohol and drugs.
Australia is the biggest gambling nation on the planet, losing 40 per cent more than any other country per capita.
Presenter Dave Burt from SALT touched on the normalisation of sports betting, with losses in Victoria rising by 16.6 per cent in 2016–17 while total gambling losses in the state reached $5.86 billion in 2017-18. In fact, Australia is the biggest gambling nation on the planet, losing 40 per cent more than any other country per capita.
Sports gambling compounding disadvantage
Kydan calls the session ‘very important’ for him and his peers and, as a leader of the group, says he was inspired by the decision-making component of the training. Back in Mooroopna, he has already witnessed some of the harm gambling can cause, and argues that it compounds existing socioeconomic disadvantage.
‘I’ve seen other people at pubs putting bets on horses and dog racing,’ he says. ‘It wastes their money, and it means they don’t have money to pay for more important stuff. [$5.68 billion] is a lot of money being wasted in Victoria.’
'Betting makes a lot of people worry about winning. They should just watch the game and try to enjoy it.'
As a footballer, Kydan is concerned about the increasing normalisation of sports betting. He is grateful that Richmond Football Club is part of the Love the Game program, having also signed the Foundation’s charter in 2016 to not accept sponsorship from sports betting companies.
‘It’s a good thing,’ says Kydan. ‘Betting makes a lot of people worry about winning. They should just watch the game and try to enjoy it.’
Positive role models
Next Generation Academy Manager Todd Sigalas says partnering with the Foundation has been a ‘brilliant’ fit for the educational component of the NGA, particularly given the social justice focus of the Richmond program.
‘We’re talking about at-risk communities that we’re dealing with,’ says Todd. ‘We have a massive challenge in the regions we cover which is the northern part of Victoria encompassing the Murray Bushrangers and Bendigo Pioneers, while we also have a partnership with Rumbalara, an Indigenous footy club in Shepparton.
‘There are lots of economic and social issues for kids in the area, and they need positive influences and positive role-modelling. These are good kids – they just haven’t been given the same starting point – so it’s really important as a club to have a partnership like this because the kids look to us with the branding, the [Richmond] polo for decision-making guidance.’
Todd says he has noticed a generational shift in the normalisation of sports betting ads, which puts today’s youth at added risk.
'There are lots of economic and social issues for kids in the area, and they need positive influences and positive role-modelling.'
Todd Sigalas, Next Generation Academy
‘As a 35-year-old, I can say that sports betting wasn’t shoved down our throats the way it is now. For these kids, it’s shoved down their throats far too much. It’s really normalised and it shouldn’t be. There’s nowhere to hide from it, so they’re vulnerable to it.
‘Let’s hope that we can have an impact. Even if it’s just a couple of kids in the room who make better decisions because of this program, that’s worth it.
‘Think about their sphere of influence after that. These are kids who we hope will become leaders in their communities, run footy programs, or get administration jobs at their clubs or in sport in general. We have to empower them to make good choices.’