West Coast Eagles colossus Nic Naitanui stands out in a crowd. And so does his sweeping smile.
The affable big man is one of the most recognisable figures in the game. Even people who don’t follow Australian football know Nic Naitanui.
And that’s why he is such a valuable asset to the game. Apart from the athletic prowess he displays on the ground, it’s his ability to converse and interact with people away from it that makes him precious. He’s as comfortable speaking with the prime minister as he is with a kid at the local Muslim college.
And they all listen intently to his message.
Little wonder then, that four years ago, when the AFL decided to engage a range of players as multicultural ambassadors, that Naitanui was at the top of the list.
Not only was he a good fit because he was so identifiable, but the AFL was merely formalising a role he was fulfilling anyway.
Of Fijian heritage, Naitanui was drawn to the game because the kids he grew up with – including Carlton’s Chris Yarran and Fremantle’s Michael Walters – were always kicking a footy around in the neighbourhood.
His story of growing to love and enjoy the game is genuine. So kids of any background – be they Chinese, English, Indonesian, Indian, Italian, Greek or from any other culture – are absorbed by what he has to say.
Naitanui is one of about a dozen players engaged to spread the word about diversity in the AFL; of how the game strives to embrace all cultures, giving everyone a chance to learn the game, to play it, to help with its administration. There’s a role for anyone who is keen to be involved.
Aside from Naitanui, some of other stars include Hawthorn forward Paul Puopolo, Richmond defender Bachar Houli and Greater Western Sydney midfielder Stephen Coniglio, a former Swan Districts star.
Naitanui is the public face of the multicultural campaign in Perth. He relishes the opportunity to spread the reach of Australian football and helping to take the game to other cultural who might otherwise miss the chance to develop an understanding of the uniquely indigenous game.
“From the grassroots level to the AFL level to see diversity in our game has been awesome,” Naitanui said.
“It’s something to be really proud of. Like the Indigenous boys do with Indigenous Round, for us to be able to celebrate the diversity in our game and have a round dedicated to it is a privilege and an honour.
“There are guys all over the AFL at different clubs, so that representation, and people buying in, has been awesome, especially this year.
“The more we can spread the word of ‘many cultures, one game’ the better the game is going to be.”
This year, Naitanui has also thrown his support behind an academy in his name and some of those kids will play in a curtain raiser at Domain Stadium this Saturday afternoon, ahead of the clash with Hawthorn.
Some of the match day activations at Domain Stadium for this round include:
- Chung Wah Association Chinese Dragon and Syrian Drummers entertainment pre-game
- Multicultural/Diversity Curtain Raiser Game – Nic Naitanui Academy vs Djinda Falcons
- Many Cultures, One Game multi-lingual run-through banner
- Naitanui and Puopolo engaged in the pre-game coin toss
- Multicultural guest speaker in the Chairman’s function – Sammy Yap (President, Chung Wah)
- Half time AFL 9s games including a feature match with former West Coast players (including Dwayne Lamb, John Annear and Kasey Green) combining with some brand new Australian citizens.