Sixteen AFL clubs have officially backed a campaign to remove one brand’s copyright claim over the Aboriginal Flag, according to advocates behind the movement, as the league prepares to launch its annual Indigenous Round without the iconic symbol.

Clothing The Gap, an Aboriginal-owned apparel brand and social enterprise, say all but two of the league’s teams have joined the Free The Flag campaign’s leadership board.

Collingwood publicly backed the campaign yesterday, with its squad wearing Free The Flag shirts during a practice session on the Sunshine Coast.

Western Bulldogs did the same today.

Other clubs, including Geelong, Fremantle, and West Coast, also expressed their support over social media.

Port Adelaide’s Aboriginal Programs Manager Pauly Vandenbergh riffed on the club’s anthem, saying the campaign was “history here in the making”.

As time of writing, Clothing The Gap states Essendon and Richmond – both of which contest the round’s centrepiece Dreamtime at the ‘G match – are the only clubs not to join the campaign’s leadership board.

The clubs’ public stance comes on the eve of the Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round, the league’s annual celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and the immense impact of Indigenous players on the game.

While the Indigenous Round has become a fan favourite, this year’s festivities – and each club’s limited edition jersey – will not feature the Aboriginal Flag, owing to a pivotal copyright issue.

While the Aboriginal Flag was designed in 1971 by Luritja artist Harold Thomas and became a unifying symbol of Aboriginal culture, the rights to use the symbol on clothing were sold to WAM Clothing, a non-Indigenous brand, back in 2018.

ABC reports WAM Clothing has previously challenged the flag’s use on Indigenous Round jerseys in both the AFL and NRL, and the AFL was unable to reach an agreement to use the flag in 2020.

Clothing The Gap, which contested WAM Clothing’s copyright last year, kicked off the Free The Flag movement. The organisation states that “Viable channels for new licensing agreements, especially those for Aboriginal organisations and businesses, must be created.”

Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt said Harold’s copyright must be respected, but added the symbol “should be available to all people who want access to it.”

Wyatt did point out one important factor, though: there’s nothing stopping fans from wearing their own Aboriginal Flags at the games, or while supporting at home.

Image: Collingwood FC / Clothing The Gap / Facebook