Everyone belongs on the sporting field
Australian sports leagues celebrate Harmony Week and sport's powerful ability to foster social cohesion and community integration.
Sydney Thunder's Nazir Shinwari at the "Everyone Belongs" Harmony Week event at Lidcombe Oval.
© UNHCR/Steve Christo
Arriving in Australia at the age of 10, Nazir Shinwari never imagined he’d go from street cricket in Pakistan to bowling for Sydney Thunder. Resettled as a refugee after his family fled war in Afghanistan, Nazir remembers sport as an important way of settling into the Australian community. “I didn’t speak English when I came,” explains Nazir. “I played soccer for a bit, then I played cricket – you start talking to people, that’s how my English got better.”
It’s been a big change from growing up in Peshawar. “I played street cricket in Pakistan with my brothers and neighbours,” recalls Nazir. “There were (cricket) clubs, but you needed a lot of money to join. When I was there I wouldn’t go out of my street, people in my family had been kidnapped. In Australia, it’s safe, and there are a lot of (sporting) options.”
Aliir Aliir, rising AFL star at the Sydney Swans after being drafted in 2013, had a similar journey after being resettled by UNHCR as a refugee from South Sudan. In Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, he says he used to play soccer until it was dark. Before his late father passed away, he used to tell Aliir’s mother, “my son’s going to play some good sport one day.’”
After arriving in Australia, sport remained a big part of Aliir’s life. “It was the way I could connect,” Aliir says. “Coming here, at first I didn’t know English, but I made good friends of all backgrounds through playing sport – that really helped me.”
This week, the Australian Football League (AFL) National Rugby League (NRL) and Cricket New South Wales have united with Red Cross Australia to provide newly arrived asylum seekers with an introduction to three of Australia’s largest sporting codes. The event in Western Sydney is part of Harmony Week, under the theme “Everyone Belongs.”
“Sport is one of the most powerful vehicles in helping to foster social cohesion and community integration,”
says Nickie Flambouras, Multicultural Programs Manager at AFL NSW/ACT.
Nickie Flambouras, Multicultural Programs Manager at AFL NSW/ACT, says the event was particularly inspired by the power of sport to bring people together and help them feel part of a community.“Sport is one of the most powerful vehicles in helping to foster social cohesion and community integration,” she explains.
“As we continue to connect and engage communities across Australia, we are finding more and more refugee and migrant families becoming participants and fans of the game. By involving people we are enriching our sporting code.”
Aliir agrees. Asked what advice he would give young refugees and others of diverse multicultural backgrounds arriving in Australia, he says, “try new things; try a new sport to have fun. It helps you connect, whether it’s bowling or having a kick of the footy with a smile on your face.”