Soccer, the world game

No matter where you are in the world, whether on a football field in Jesmond or rugby oval in Kenya, the sense of euphoria projected from a win is astonishingly similar.

Sport, much like music and religion, can be a driving force in uniting people.

It can transcend cultural barriers and develop camaraderie between strangers. Often, no words are needed.

In recognising this, Northern NSW Football (NNSWF) recently joined forces with Newcastle Football to support Jesmond Football Club in its efforts to welcome new migrants to the “world sport”. The Club had already been funding initiatives to
support the refugee community for more than 11 years and has welcomed the additional backing.

The NSW Government’s Active Kids program provides two $100 vouchers for parents, guardians and carers of school enrolled children to use towards two separate sport and active recreation costs each year.

When one of these vouchers is used for football registration, NNSWF and Newcastle Football are providing Jesmond FC with financial assistance that will empower the club to assist newly arrived, migrants to meet the registration costs and play for the club.

It is a move that will have an enormous impact on the lives of many of Newcastle’s newest residents, many of whom now reside in the western suburbs of the city.

Northern NSW Football CEO David Eland says he is proud of the way in which football brings communities together and the safe and inclusive environment it can provide.

“The sport speaks internationally across many cultures,” he says. “Kids who may not interact at school become friends; parents develop networks, and communities are built.

“Northern NSW Football is committed to strengthening clubs and building more resilient and tolerant communities by addressing the barriers that impede the participation of the disadvantaged, disabled and multicultural groups.”

Director of CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning, Gary Christensen, says NNSWF’s support of refugees provides an excellent platform for Australians to share our way of life and vice-versa, rather than detracting from it.

“The Australian government invites refugees into our country as a haven, but that’s not enough.”

CatholicCare’s Refugee Hub, formerly known as DARA, aims to assist new migrants at a grassroots level.

Assistance can include but is not limited to housing support, advocacy, NDIS co-ordination, employment matters and English lessons. The Refugee Hub has also been working in collaboration with Jesmond Football Club to increase participation in the sport for many years and is looking forward to ramping up efforts this year.

“Catholic social teachings tell you that we are here for the common good,” Mr Christensen says. “As such, it is up to all of us as individuals, clubs and organisations to help facilitate new migrants’ integration into our society, whether that be through sport or the arts, religion or other ‘everyday’ activities.”

Mr Eland agrees. “It is when we band all together, in this case with Newcastle Football, Settlement Services International and clubs such as Jesmond FC, we can make football more affordable and accessible to those who otherwise may not be able to participate,” he says.

Making the sport accessible to all is important every day, but it is particularly exciting in the lead up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which Australia will host. It is anticipated Newcastle will be named a host city for teams from around the world.

While the sound of triumph, or a loss, of the game can be understood regardless of the dialect spoken, breaking down barriers for inclusion opens the opportunity to share cultures.

Perhaps Persian cake will complement the Aussie tradition of oranges at half time or the lamington drive fund-raiser. Or, at the very least, parents who may not have otherwise crossed paths in a workplace setting or drinks at the pub may now be able to explore common ground as they cheer on their children from the sideline.

Helene O’Neill is the Team Leader of Family Ministry Coordinators in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and Chair of Northern NSW Football.

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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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