With the AFC Asian Cup capturing the imagination of all soccer fans, some of SSI’s young refugee and asylum seeker clients will celebrate the sport at a “football festival”.
To coincide with the Asian Cup, social development organisation Football United is co-hosting the Dream Asia Unity Football Festival for youth at Sydney Olympic Park’s Hockey Centre, with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
SSI Case Manager Daniel Hopkins was asked by the organisation if Settlement Services International (SSI) clients wanted to participate, and he said the opportunity was enough to bring tears to the eyes of at least one young refugee.
“One of the boys taking part really likes football, he actually burst in
The football festival for young people, boys and girls, 13 to 15 years of age, will be played from January 21 to 23. The event organisers have said it “will unite players, families and the community of Sydney together for three days of football, fun, education and harmony”.
Abdal, 15, is one of the young people supported by SSI who is playing during the festival. He came with his family to Australia as a refugee from Syria. Abdal said he started playing football in Syria when he was “very young” but had only had the chance to play once in the months since he came to Australia. He loved “everything” about the game, he said.
“I’m very happy and excited to play in the tournament,” he said through an interpreter. Abdal added that he hoped to meet new friends at the festival.
A mission statement from Football United states a belief that the sport has a “unique power to unite fans, communities and nations, and together we unite to celebrate that power of football to empower children and youth to fulfil their full potential”.
The organisation aims to engage youth through football and to build their personal skills as much as their soccer skills.
The sentiment is one that SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis supports enthusiastically.
“Many of the refugees and asylum seekers supported by SSI have a relationship with soccer, whether that is as a player or fan or someone who has always wanted to participate but never had the opportunity to,” Ms Roumeliotis said.
“This sport allows them to build their social lives and it gives them an interest or passion to engage with and take some respite from focusing on their past experiences, which are typically traumatic. And then, of course, it is a fun and healthy pastime.”