This year’s Australia Post AFL Multicultural Player Ambassadors represent 11 AFL clubs and four AFLW clubs, and showcase the talent on offer from the array of communities who call Australia home.
GWS Giants vice-captain Stephen Coniglio will take on the role of Multicultural Ambassador for his fourth year running, mentoring young football players of diverse backgrounds in New South Wales.
“[The role] is something that I’ve always very much enjoyed and I see it as a way of giving back to the community,” he said.
“It’s great to celebrate diversity and this is just one of the wonderful initiatives that the AFL has in terms of that.”
The 23-year-old midfielder has Italian and English heritage, and his father migrated to Australia from the Calabrian village of Bivongi as a young child in the 1960s.
“My nonno came out first and worked for two years before he saved enough money to bring the rest of the family over,” Coniglio explained.
“My grandparents came over in search of a better life and they worked tirelessly for a number of years to set up and provide for the family.”
A second generation Italo-Australian, Coniglio is still very much in touch with his roots, having been to Italy three times and welcoming his family from the Belpaese for an Aussie Christmas last year.
The talented athlete also owes his admirable attitude to the values that have been passed down to him from his parents and his grandparents.
“Italians are so good at bringing people together and making others feel happy,” he explained.
“It’s something that my nonna in particular has always thrived on, and putting family and others first is definitely a trait that I have inherited from her.”
Already a role model for so many young Australians, Coniglio hopes to use his title as Multicultural Ambassador to encourage young people to pursue their passions, and prove that the opportunities are endless when it comes to football, from playing to umpiring and commentating.
“The one thing I always try to drill into kids is that if you believe in yourself and you really want something in life, you can do anything you put your mind to,” he said.
“I also want to make sure that they’re proud of where they come from and that they carry that heritage with them.”
Today, multicultural players make up 15 per cent of the AFL player lists across the league’s 18 clubs, and 7.8 per cent across the eight AFLW clubs, which were introduced this February.
According to Coniglio, there is still so much potential for his chosen sport when it comes to diversity.
“I very much want to see the AFL progress over the next few years and become a more multicultural game,” he said.
“When you look at the game in general at the moment, it really doesn’t reflect the rest of society.”
The star midfielder will help drive this year’s AFL Multicultural Round, set to take place in Round 19, which will be dedicated to celebrating the cultural mosaic that is Australia through our nation's love of the sport.
In addition to this initiative, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has announced that AFL will go international in 2017.
“It’s a historic year in our game. In addition to the launch of AFLW, we are also taking a Toyota AFL Premiership Season match to China in Round 8,” he said.
“The landscape of football is changing and the ambassadors reflect that.”
It seems that, with the help of proud players such as Coniglio, the AFL is on the right path to becoming not only one of Australia's favourite sports, but also one of our most vibrant and diverse communities.