Physical activity and sport are important in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Traditional activities such as hunting and country care are still practiced today. These activities require physical exertion and have cultural significance.
Organized sport is important in many regional and remote communities with large numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This can be seen through competitions such as the NSW Kuri Knockout and the NAIDOC Netball Carnival.
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why is it important?
Many factors influence Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in physical activity and sport. These can be classified as facilitators, which enable participation, or barriers, which can make participation more challenging.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that four in ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are doing substantial physical activity. This is despite high indigenous representation in professional sport, for example in rugby league and the AFL.
Physical activity has many positive health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. There are also social benefits to participating in sports. Our previous research found some evidence of benefits for education, employment, culture, welfare, life skills and crime prevention.
Our new review found 62 different facilitators and 63 different obstacles for physical activity and sport. Multiple, complex facilitators and obstacles were experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults across Australia.
The review included 27 studies involving more than 750 total participants aged 18 years and older. The studies were published between 2008 and 2020 and took place in urban, rural/regional and remote areas. Most involved interviewing, “yarning” or storytelling with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Some studies focused on physical activity programs. Some studies focused on sports. And some focused on physical activity alongside nutrition.
The main physical activity and sports motivators were support from family, friends and program staff, and opportunities to connect with the community or culture. The main constraints were lack of transportation and financial constraints. Also, lack of time due to work, family or cultural commitments.
Read more: Sport may be an important part of Aboriginal culture for women – but many obstacles remain
response via action statement
Each facilitator and constraint were examined simultaneously to give five clear “action descriptions”. These statements provide practical guidance on how future programs can increase and maintain participation. They also give advice on improving existing programs and strategies.
Action Statement 1: Individual perspectives and life circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be considered
Many different attitudes, expectations and self-beliefs were identified that can either facilitate or inhibit physical activity and sport participation. Physical activity needs to fit in with people’s daily lives and individual circumstances. These circumstances include health issues and socioeconomic issues. In urban areas, self-motivation made participation more achievable. But a lack of self-motivation was a deterrent in all geographic locations.
Action Statement 2: Promoting the overall health and individual benefits of physical activity and addressing participation challenges
People described a desire to improve their health as a motivation to do physical activity and sports. However, health or physical problems hindered participation. This means that it is necessary to come up with strategies to overcome these obstacles. People also described being motivated to participate because they enjoy the physical activity. However, injury or illness was also described as a hindrance.
Action Statement 3: Recognize the importance of family and cultural ties
Providing opportunities for positive relationships with family, peers, and networks can help people engage in physical activity and sports. Family commitments, including child care, were a common obstacle. Racism was also a hindrance. But the importance and impact of family, friends, community members and role models was very clear.
Action Statement 4: Respect relationships with culture and support communities to be supportive, safe and well resourced
At the community level, infrastructure and neighborhood security are important factors. Community ties also play an important role that can help or hinder physical activity participation. Connecting to culture and having access to culturally safe places and activities is also important.
Action Statement 5: Physical activity and sport programs must be sustainably funded and open to the needs and expectations of participants
Programs must accommodate the needs and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Programs that are cost-free, have a structure, provide transportation and childcare and that are professionally delivered and streamlined were attractive.
Future decisions regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physical activity and sport need to be made in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is also important to acknowledge the diversity in the various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Decisions should be in line with local views and customs.
Future research may evaluate the impact of future programs, or changes to current programs. In this way, we can best understand the benefits of physical activity and sport for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and increase future opportunities.