When Adelaide Crows AFLW captain Chelsea Randall stepped off the plane in Nauru, she wasn’t expecting a welcome reception, least of all a personalised one. “Especially because it was 4 o’clock in the morning,” Randall laughs. “But it was so special – a family had got up early, made a welcome sign with our names on and come to the airport to greet us. It speaks volumes about the people there and how much they love AFL.”
Randall and her teammates Angela Foley and Nikki Gore recently became the first AFLW players to set foot in the Pacific nation, one of the smallest countries in the world, and the only one that considers AFL its national sport. Their mission? A whistle-stop tour to encourage healthy lifestyle choices, participation in physical activity and, ultimately, inspire more women and girls to play AFL.
Visiting over the Constitution Day weekend, an annual celebration of Nauruan independence, sport and culture, the trio attended sporting events, ran an AFL skills session for women and children, and were guests of honour at a state dinner hosted by His Excellency Baron Waqa, the President of Nauru.
“It was unbelievable,” Randall enthused. “The community, the people…I didn’t know there was another country in the world that had the same passion for AFL as we do, so it was amazing to be part of. We felt privileged to be there celebrating women in sport. It’s great for a country that loves AFL so much that we can give back, share what we know from our training sessions, and continue to grow the sport there.”
“It’s not often you can say that every single person in a country knows your name, but that’s exactly the case for those three women now,” said Simon Highfield, AFL Development Coordinator for the South Pacific, who helped coordinate the visit alongside the Australian High Commission in Nauru.
“Everyone knows who they are, what they look like, and who they play for. There are now about 10,000 new Crows fans running around Nauru.”
But the story of the sport’s impact in this nation of just 11,000 goes beyond the football field.
AFL Nauru works with the Department of Public Health to run activities focused on encouraging healthy diet and lifestyle choices, raising awareness of diabetes, and promoting sexual health. The program is supported by the Australian government through the Pacific Sports Partnerships.
“Our partnership with the public health department is really flourishing,” explains Highfield. “Every time we run an AFL activity, they’re there promoting key messages. Hospital data from the end of last year showed that the number of screenings for diabetes and sexually transmitted infections had doubled, we believe as a result of promoting them at AFL Nauru programs.
“It’s humbling to see that our sport has such a massive effect on a tiny nation, and that a bit of promotion goes a long way.”
The visit was initiated by the Australian High Commission in Nauru as an opportunity to celebrate the two countries’ mutual love of AFL and involve some of Australia’s top female athletes in Nauru’s community health initiatives.
“It was a tremendous success and highlighted the strong historical, cultural and sporting links between Australian and Nauru through a shared passion for AFL,” said High Commissioner, Angela Tierney.
“The players delivered strong messages around nutrition, exercise and healthy lifestyles, and the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment. They inspired men, women and children alike and gave generously of their time, skills and energy throughout the packed program of activities. We could not have wished for better Ambassadors for their sport, club or country.”
Footyplus: Next Generation Nauru Video