The AFL has become the latest sporting organisation to announce plans to support bushfire relief, including $2.5 million in donations and a one-off State of Origin match at Docklands next month.
AFL chief Gillon McLachlan made the announcement of the Origin clash between a Victorian and an Allies side, adding the league, clubs and players were joining together to provide a $1 million donation to the Australian Red Cross relief fund.
The State of Origin match will be played as a double-header with the Collingwood-Melbourne AFLW match — previously scheduled for February 29 — which will be moved from Victoria Park to Docklands.
The Victorian side will be guided by Richmond premiership coach Damien Hardwick, while the All-Stars will be coached by the Sydney Swans’ John Longmire.
All AFL clubs will be asked to make at least three players available for the match.
The last time State of Origin football was played involving AFL players was in 1999, when Victoria played South Australia at the MCG.
Nine years later, a one-off game — the AFL Hall of Fame tribute match — was played at the MCG, when a Victorian line-up beat the Dream Team (a composite side from other states and territories) to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Australian rules football.
The AFL would also set up a $1.5 million community relief fund to help rebuild football clubs damaged in fires, as well as helping football communities dealing with the aftermath of fires.
AFL’s bushfires response
- $1 million donation to Australian Red Cross Relief Fund
- $1.5 million AFL fund to rebuild, repair football clubs in fire-affected areas
- One-off State of Origin match, Victoria v Allies on February 28 at Docklands
- Match to be played as double-header with Collingwood v Melbourne AFLW as bushfire fundraisers
- AFLW clubs to support bushfire donation collection points at matches in the 2020 season
- $2.5m donation split between the AFL ($1.35m), clubs ($900,000) and players ($250,000)
“Our clubs, players and officials have been unanimous in providing a response that could not only raise money but also recognise the local communities impacted,” McLachlan said.
“And most importantly pay tribute to those thousands of volunteers and emergency services personnel who have worked tirelessly to protect us as a community.
“We know that those [fire-affected] communities are suffering now but they are also going to need our support as they start to rebuild.
“Sport builds bonds within communities and we want people to know they have the support of the entire football industry and that we will be there to help them rebuild facilities and programs and ensure people continue to come together.”
Australian sport kicks in for bushfire relief
The AFL announcement joins a string of pledges from players, codes and sports to provide contributions to bushfire relief.
The NRL has announced round one of the 2020 season will be a “bushfire relief round” to raise funds for fire-hit communities.
Australia’s Boxing Day Test team shirts were auctioned off to raise funds, bowlers donated $1,000 per wicket during the Sydney Test against New Zealand, and two one-day internationals against the Black Caps in March will be used for fundraising.
In tennis, Nick Kyrgios pledged $200 for every ace he served in the Australian summer of tennis which was the catalyst for a Tennis Australia program, Aces 4 Bushfire Relief, involving local and international players.
Tennis Australia will also host a concert featuring a number of performers including Jessica Mauboy, and a Rally for Relief exhibition event headlined by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both ahead of the Australian Open.
Various Big Bash League cricketers have pledged money for each six hit in the competition, while Australian great Shane Warne is auctioning his baggy green cap —as of Thursday morning, the highest bid is $520,500.
A group of Australian NBA basketballers with the NBA Players Association have banded together to donate US $750,000 ($1.09 million), while NBL superstar and projected NBA number one draft pick Lamelo Ball has pledged one month’s worth of his salary with the Illawarra Hawks.
Major bushfire donors Donor/sAmountAndrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation$70mPaul Ramsay Foundation$30mCrown/The Packers$5mNAB$5mColes$4mLeonardo DiCaprio via Earth Alliance $3.4mAFL$2.5mBHP$2mWestpac$1.5mWoolworths$1.5mAustralian NBA stars$1m+Commonwealth Bank$1mANZ$1mRio Tinto$1mOrica$1mPratt Foundation$1mJohn and Pauline Gandel$1mElton John$1mChris Hemsworth$1mKylie Jenner$1mHains family via Portland House Foundation$1mThe Perich Group $1mAuction for Shane Warne’s baggy green cap (purchased by the Commonwealth Bank)$1mMetallica$750kLewis Hamilton$730k approxKylie and Dannii Minogue$500kJustin Hemmes$500kNicole Kidman and Keith Urban$500kPink$500kBette Midler$500k
*Table does not include fundraisers, such as Celeste Barber’s efforts to raise tens of millions, or pledges conditional on future events, such as Nick Krygios’ commitment to donate $200 for every ace he hits.
When Jake Edwards’s name was called out by the Carlton Football Club on AFL draft night in 2005, it appeared to herald a long and successful career in football.
Less than nine years later, he tried to take his life.
“I’m very fortunate to still be here, to be able to spend time with my family again and shake my dad’s hand and hug Mum,” Edwards said.
The 31-year-old’s life collapsed after being delisted by the Blues, as he battled mental health issues and drug and alcohol abuse.
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It all stemmed from a diagnosis of depression and anxiety from his footballing days, and a loss of identity as a footballer post-retirement.
“There is a four-year period post my AFL career where I just ran away, I just pushed people away. Friends, family, I stopped going to birthdays, Christmases,” Edwards recalled.
“I felt like I let my family down. That identity of football I had lost, and when I took that jumper off I didn’t know who I was anymore.
“If I wasn’t drinking every weekend, it was every few days, which ultimately led me [to] drug abuse as well.
“I needed to find that feeling again of being valued, and that’s what I guess the alcohol and drug abuse fulfilled in my life.”
Born into a footballing dynasty
Football had always been a major part of Edwards’s life. His great-grandfather, grandfather, father and cousin all played in the VFL or AFL.
His grandfather, Arthur Edwards, played 120 games for Footscray, including in the club’s successful 1954 grand final against Melbourne.
“I always say if I was to give blood tomorrow, there would be little footies floating around [in it],” Edwards said.
“It was always something I wanted to do, for as long as I can remember.”
But despite glimpses of his talent, life as a professional footballer didn’t go according to plan for Edwards.
Jake Edwards in action on the football field
Towards the end of his second year with Carlton, he started experiencing mental health issues, which he tried to ignore.
“I did what every typical young male does and just closed off,” Edwards recalled.
“I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn’t want people to know about it.
“Symptoms for me were just isolation, crying most mornings, which is frustrating because I was supposed to be fit, healthy.”
Edwards hid his struggles from his teammates and Carlton, until one poor VFL game sent him off the rails.
He went back to the family farm, calling the club on the way to tell them he was done with football.
‘A simple pill isn’t going to be the cure’
Edwards was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and started taking medication, allowing him to return to the club and resume his career.
A marathon without a finish line
Professional athletes often view mental health issues as an opponent that can be beaten, but they need to know not everything in life is a battle to be won or lost, writes Richard Hinds.
But he didn’t fully grasp what it meant to have a mental illness.
“I was naive and ignorant to the fact it was something that was probably going to be with me for a lifetime, and a simple pill isn’t going to be the cure,” Edwards said.
The illness reared it head a couple of years later, when Edwards had left Carlton and was training with the Western Bulldogs, hoping to be picked up in the AFL draft.
Despite promises from the club, he was overlooked, ending his career and sending him spiralling — eventually leading to an attempt to take his own life.
“I had a trigger in a relationship which led me down a four-day drug-and-alcohol-fuelled bender, and that led to an attempt on my own life one morning,” he said.
Help from Outside the Locker Room
Edwards spent time in a program working with psychiatrists and getting education around mental health, and it was there that he developed the concept of Outside the Locker Room (OTLR).
The not-for-profit foundation aims to help sporting clubs — from grassroots to professional — along with schools and employers to understand and manage the challenges faced by their employees or members.
It has been widely adopted, with the Federal Government providing funding in Western Australia for the program to be rolled out in 100 sporting clubs and 50 schools per year for the next four years.
It also comes at a time when the issue of mental health in the AFL looms larger than ever, with star Collingwood midfielder Dayne Beams stepping away from the game indefinitely last month while describing himself as a “broken man”.
Subiaco Football Club is one of the organisations which has adopted the Outside the Locker Room program, having done so after one of its trainers worked on a research project looking at the mental health of injured players.
“Our board looked at those findings in 2017 and thought, ‘We need to do something to support our players’,” Subiaco chief executive Peter Capes said.
When football is about more than the game
OTLR was introduced at Subiaco to provide support and education for players struggling with mental health and has helped the club through some difficult times.
“We lost a player due to suicide a couple of years ago, and it really impacted our playing group, and Outside the Locker Room were able to quickly come in and provide some counselling and support,” Capes said.
The organisation provides services to the club in other ways, providing a phone app which allows players to anonymously log data related to how they are feeling.
It gives Subiaco’s coaches valuable information.
“It provides a snapshot of the playing group and the sorts of things we need to pay attention to,” Capes said.
“We’ve gone away from coaches coaching footy. They have to coach the player, look out for them and how they are going, they need to know what’s going on in their family and friends.
“It’s become a little bit more complicated.”