Noble athlete, savage coach

how racialised representations of Aboriginal athletes impede professional sport coaching opportunities for Aboriginal Australians

Nicholas Apoifis, Demelza Marlin, Andrew Bennie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)


Representations of Aboriginal Australian peoples as genetically predisposed to sporting prowess are pervasive and enduring perceptions. This rhetoric belongs to a larger narrative that also describes a peculiarly Aboriginal style of play: full of flair, speed and ‘magic’. Such imagery has informed a common perception that, in many team sports, Aboriginal athletes are biologically more suited to playing positions characterised by pace, trickery and spontaneity, rather than those that utilise leadership acumen and intellectual skill. There has been a great deal of academic research exploring how such essentialised and racialised representations play out for Aboriginal athletes. In this paper, however, we extend that research, examining how racialised representations of Aboriginal athletic ability affect Aboriginal coaches. Premised on interviews with 26 Aboriginal Australian coaches, we argue that representations of Aboriginal athletes as naturally suited to speed and flair, rather than leadership and sporting-intellect, help maintain an environment that limits opportunities for Aboriginal Australians seeking to move into sporting leadership roles, such as coaching. This paper sheds light on the ways in which racialised representations of Aboriginal athletes feed into a settler colonialist narrative that stymies opportunities for aspiring Aboriginal professional coaches, and speculates on the limitations of this approach, in challenging the political hegemony of settler colonialism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)854-868
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Review for the Sociology of Sport
Issue number7
Early online date23 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • Indigenous
  • positional segregation
  • qualitative research
  • race
  • racial stacking
  • settler colonial
  • sport coaching

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