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New Michael Long sports academy using football to improve lives and communities

Michael Long academy.jpg

Image of the Michael Long academy building, based at Marrara Stadium in Darwin.
The Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre is based at Marrara Stadium in Darwin.
19 Jan 2016

Michael Long is a footballing trailblazer, a leader in the reconciliation movement, and, with the recent opening of a sports academy named in his honour, his positive influence will continue to be felt around Australia.

The Australian Government funded Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre, based at TIO Stadium in Darwin, is working, like Michael, to harness the power of football to deliver lasting outcomes to Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory.

Xavier Clarke, a Gambalang man from Darwin and a former AFL player with St Kilda and Brisbane, works at the Centre and says that they mix sports training with educational programmes.

“The centre boasts elite facilities equal to those of AFL clubs and kids accepted into the Michael Long Centre will undergo intense skills training from the AFLNT High Performance Manager and our coaching staff,” Xavier said.

“However, we also have a strong focus on developing these kids into better people and leaders in their communities, and to improve health and employment outcomes,” he said.

The centre has accommodation for seventy young Aboriginal men and women and has created thirty eight jobs, filled by Aboriginal people acting as mentors and setting the footballers on their talent identification pathways. 

Xavier says that while producing AFL players is an aim of the centre, he realises not everyone who attends the centre will go on to be an AFL footballer, leading to the equal focus on education. 

“It’s important to understand football programmes don’t just have football outcomes,” Xavier said.

“Football is the vehicle that makes the difference to individuals and community life. These programmes also deliver frontline services, education, health, employment, social acceptance and provide a safe and healthy lifestyle for all Territorians to enjoy.”

Xavier adds that while Michael Long retired before some of the academy members were born, they still know who he is.

“Michael Long’s presence in the community is very strong and young players today still know about his achievements, not only on the football field but in life,” Xavier said.

“His continuing work in the community, the building of the Michael Long Centre, his promotion of Indigenous people and his work in reconciliation programmes keeps him at the forefront of our minds,” he said.

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The Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre works to deliver the education pathway for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to follow their dreams, as well as addressing the employment challenges they may face along the way.

The Australian Government, along with the Northern Territory Government and AFLNT, contributed to the construction and operational costs of the Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre.

The Australian Government’s involvement included funding from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS), the Regional Development Australia Fund and the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA).