The representation of Indigenous Australians in sport for development policy: what’s the problem?

Ryan Lucas, Justen O’Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This research critically examines Sport for Development (SFD) policies targeting Indigenous Australians. While previous studies have sought to compare the impact of SFD policies on First Nations people in Canada and Australia, no research to date has provided a detailed investigation of the specific policy approaches underpinning SFD programmes, that target Indigenous Australians. Utilising thematic discourse analysis and Bacchi’s (2009) What’s the problem represented to be? (WPR) theoretical framework, this study seeks to expose the dominant representations within the policy approaches underpinning the use of SFD to achieve Closing the Gap (CTG) outcomes. Furthermore, this research seeks to question the policy ‘problems’ upon which these representations are based. Drawing on policy documents produced by the Australian Government between 2013 and 2019, the findings highlight a range of policy ‘problems’ associated with the use of sport to achieve CTG outcomes. Utilising a WPR approach, this study considers the impacts of these dominant representations and presents an argument for how these ‘problems’ may be considered differently. In doing so, this analysis reveals a policy approach underpinned by the ‘power of sport’ narrative, which draws its roots from the colonial era. Additionally, this research questions how sport may be understood for Indigenous Australians, and whether policy ‘problems’ such as the lack of participation in formalised sport by Indigenous Australians represents a new form of resistance. Finally, this paper calls for more Indigenous-led research to continue to disrupt potentially destructive narratives surrounding SFD for Indigenous Australians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)587-603
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Sport Policy and Politics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Australia
  • critical
  • Indigenous
  • policy
  • sport-for-development

Cite this