OPINION: Australian athletes continue to lead the way, as the government lags behind dragging its heels

Former Socceroo Craig Foster has been one of the Australian athletes leading the calls for positive change by advocating for refugees. Picture: Jeff McGill
Former Socceroo Craig Foster has been one of the Australian athletes leading the calls for positive change by advocating for refugees. Picture: Jeff McGill

Australian athletes continue to lead the charge towards positive change in every aspect in this country.

Whether it's evacuating Afghan athletes, advocating for climate action, fundraising medal incentives for Paralympians, stamping out racism or calling to free the Aboriginal flag. They are filling the gap our leaders leave and taking on more than they are asked to for worthy causes.

A shift has been brewing in recent years, as athletes lean into their elevated platforms and look to use them for positive change. The most recent example includes more than 250 Australian athletes putting their names to The Cool Down project, where athletes penned an open letter to the nation's leaders to address climate change by taking bold action.

Then there has been the fundraising by Olympian and AFLW star Chloe Dalton to fund medal prize money for the Paralympians in Tokyo, as they receive none.

This is in comparison to the $665,000 Australia's 46 Olympic medals were worth when they returned from Tokyo - $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze.

In some cases athletes, such as former Socceroo Craig Foster, are pushing for life saving change.

In 2019 Foster famously led the campaign to get refugee Hakeem al-Araibi freed from a Thailand jail - where he was facing extradition charges to Bahrain - to fly back to Australia.

And seemingly Football Australia is matching the standard Foster has set. By calling on the Australian Government to increase the number of Afghan refugees the country is taking in - since the fall of the country to the Taliban - to make it more than the 3000 places reserved from the yearly 13,750 refugee visas.

FA chief executive officer James Johnson said the organisation supported a strong and special humanitarian intake.

"Football is the first love of Afghanistan ... [so] the game of football is uniquely placed to help our newest Australians re-establish a sense of community and to support families to rebuild their lives here", he said.

"As a football nation at the forefront of the women's game globally, we pay tribute to the Afghani women who broke new ground in building the women's game and we stand ready to support them as they build their new lives in Australia."

This coincides with the work of Olympians Nikki Dryden and Zali Steggall, Foster and Paralympian Kurt Fearnley, who were part of the team who managed to get more than 50 Afghan athletes and their families evacuated to Australia on emergency visas.

Last year Indigenous AFL player Eddie Betts led the calls of the Free the Flag movement, calling for an end to the copyright dispute over the Aboriginal flag leading into the Sir Doug Nicholls round, with several AFL and AFLW sides joining the call and wearing the Clothing The Gaps Free the Flag top to elevate the cause.

Followed by the voices of Patty Mills, Adam Goodes, Latrell Mitchell, Betts and more across Australia's sporting codes calling out racism and sharing their own experiences, even in the face of further racism.

Whilst athletes are leading the charge on these issues in Australia, the question remains why our government is not leading the way instead?

This story Athletes lead the way, as our govt lags first appeared on The Canberra Times.