For those of you who don’t know AFL – or Aussie rules – it is the beloved national sport of Australia. It’s hard hitting and ruthless, like NFL without the protection – although I’m not looking to start a debate about that!
I’m writing this piece in regards to a new campaign that was launched by the AFL governing body – Don’t believe in never.
These are a series of videos surrounding the impact the sport has had on individual lives, and two of those videos really struck a chord with me.
The first is of Aliir Aliir – a Sudanese born refugee – who got drafted by sporting giants Sydney Swans. He talks about his journey from the refugee camp of Kakuma, and his unexpected to the pinnacle of professional sport on the warm, welcoming shores of Australia.
The second video is about Dema, a teenage Muslim girl who fought to play footy against her father’s wishes. Dema’s story is one of breaking the mould and forging your own path, in turn inspiring her father to broaden his own horizon’s instead of living against the unknown.
Both these videos – and the stories that they tell – resonate incredibly with me, and I’m sure, with many immigrants around Australia and around the world.
The immigrant mentality is split into two facets.
One, we want to make better lives for ourselves, for our family. We strive, we work, and we achieve for that goal. Our purpose is interwoven with the love we have for those around us. My parents sacrificed so much so my brothers and I could pursue our passions and have better lives in Australia – and all my brothers and I want to do in return is to achieve great things for them, to repay them for their faith and love in us.
Two, we are scared of change. Moving to a new country often means learning a new language, engaging with a new culture and the most difficult part – finding a place within the community. It’s a challenge. And more often than not, the challenge becomes overwhelming and we become insular, hiding within rather than venturing into the unknown and embracing the world around us.
What if I don’t have the words?
What if I get made fun of?
What if I never find my place?
Sport – for myself and many others – has been a point of entry into social conversation and lasting relationships. When I first moved to Australia, it was hard to make friends – my accent was different, my skin colour a little darker and my eyes just that much smaller.
It wasn’t until I stepped onto a soccer pitch where I was finally able to connect and communicate with others. The ball, for me, was a universal language. Suddenly, my accent did matter. As long as I knew how to pass a ball and kick it, I belonged.
Truth be told, a lot of my best friends today have been made running and kicking a ball around.
Stories like Aliir’s and Dema’s make me smile, they make me warm and fuzzy inside because for all the issues of race and culture in the world – there is always evidence of human progress to be found.
It reminds us that when traditional platforms for change fail us, there are always other avenues in which we – as a community – can continue to innovate and make lasting social change.
Sport, most definitely, being one of them.
Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.
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