Sport’s a passport for integration

Many doubted the reasons behind bringing the 2015 Asian Cup to Newcastle. “It’s rugby league heartland,” they cried, “no one will support the games.”

How wrong they were!  As universal as a smile is, so too is football. In fact, the code is played by 250 million players in over 200 countries, making it the world's most popular sport. However, the Asian Cup isn’t the only ticket in town supporting the round ball game.

Football has provided a natural fit for refugees and their supporters since they arrived in Newcastle, but someone was needed to organise events for hopeful participants. In 2008, enter Shakila Kader, a South African native of Indian parentage, and Herbert Gatamah.

Shakila came to Australia during apartheid (the system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party (NP) governments, the ruling party from 1948 to 1994). She didn’t believe such a system would ever be overcome, but the end of the movement has been the impetus for her drive to help create a future for the refugees.

Shakila lived at a time when only elite whites were allowed to play sport, so she’s passionate about African children mixing with the locals and not taking things for granted. She sees sport as the passport for integration here in the Hunter.

Buoyed by the fighting qualities of her heroes, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, Shakila and Herbert established the Simba Lions to play in the Northern NSW Football competition.  Local player Adam Moras is the coach who led the team last season to the minor premiership but sadly, a grand final loss. The u/16s were also successful under uni student/coach Mamadou Ba.

Herbert, too, has been blown away by the growth of Simba and by the way the club has been “embraced by the local community”.

With success comes, not only an influx of players, but also spiralling costs for transport to games, washing of the strips and a home ground. TAFE, through the assistance of its Multicultural Liaison Officer, Zachary Ekandi, has given the club use of facilities at Tighes Hill and a local company does a good deal on the playing strips.

Due to success in 2014,  Simba first and reserve grade teams have been promoted to IDC Zone 2. The club has secured funding which, under the terms of the grant, is used to conduct nutrition courses leading to good health and wellbeing. The club does not promote drinking alcohol but does encourage all players to be diligent with budgeting and finance, thus paying their way.

Local club, Broadmeadow Magic, has also supported Simba, offering development to some outstanding players. The dilemma now for Simba is to attract volunteers to meet the demands associated with the club’s growth.

Herbert doesn’t want Simba to “slow down because of too few helpers – we want to grow and support the young people of Newcastle as much as we can”.

The club is gearing up for season 2015 and is currently playing trial matches to ascertain grading. Shakila would dearly love to attract a women’s side to the club and that is one of her current goals.

Shakila and Herbert are passionate about their roles and certainly encourage Hunter residents to get involved with the club. Whether you’re a coach, driver, strip washer or a supporter who can offer assistance, please P Shakila 0409 153 912. Who knows – playing a small part in Simba’s operation may contribute to launching a player on the world stage!

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Helene O'Neill Image
Helene O'Neill

Helene O'Neill is the Parish-Family Liaison Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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