Football: The great humanitarian

Stuart Meney/UNSW

Every now and then I get down about the gross commercialisation of the sport I love so dear.  Football has become more about money these days than about people and their stories.  But on one bright and sunny day in Sydney, the most remarkable thing happened to me: I saw firsthand the joy and love that football brings to humanity.  The Football United Festival 2009 inspired the mind and warmed the heart.  The Football United programs run out of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at The University of New South Wales (UNSW) assist humanitarian refugees in their immigration and integration to Australia by providing a supportive and enjoyable environment through football.

As a volunteer I got to see the magic unfold right before my eyes.  The luscious green pitch at the UNSW David Phillips Sports Field in Daceyville was about to witness some colourful and surprisingly technical football.  Students from Evans, Lurnea, Miller and Granville South High Schools as well as the Football in the Park project played against each other in a gala tournament to remember.

As students arrived and the football began it was clear the day was going to be a huge success, both on and off the field of play.  Many of these talented young kids and their families have come from war-torn Africa, the Middle-East, South-East Asia and the Americas to pursue a better life in Australia.  Football United has provided them with support and endless compassion using football as the medium.

This fun-filled festival would not have been possible if it weren’t for a true visionary, Founder and Executive Director, Anne Bunde-Birouste.  I have never met anyone so determined to celebrate the spirit of humanity, help those who at times feel helpless and call-on some of Australia’s most influential people to join the journey without fear of refusal.  The festival in itself was enough to bring a smile to your face but Anne had way more in store.  The cameras were on and ready as a documentary was to be filmed about the programs and the stories of these wonderful kids.

After lunch, former Socceroo and SBS Chief Football Analyst, Craig Foster arrived to promote the event.  Fozzie, as he is known, went up into the stands to chat with some of the kids about their football, sharing some tips and a few laughs.  Sydney FC’s, Alex Brosque and Matthew Jurman also turned-up to endorse the festival.  Both Fozzie and Brosque are official Football United ambassadors, boy do they do an amazing job!

The students had a rest and the coaches and referees got a chance to have a kick around before the Finals; the orange team beating the green team quite convincingly.  Once the Finals got underway there was some serious competition but there were no losers on this day, as Fozzie said: “Today, you’re all winners!”

Of course the major announcement after the trophy and awards presentation was well worth the wait.  A selection of 16 Football United team members from across the programs would be chosen for a chance to represent Australia at the FIFA Football for Hope Festival 2010 in South Africa next July.  This team will be cut in half and the lucky eight, equally made up of boys and girls, will be on the plane to Johannesburg.

If you thought there was only one team from Australia going to the World Cup, you’d better think again.  Football United Head Coach and mentor, Abu Ajok told me it was his dream to see a refugee go through one of the programs and make it all the way to the Socceroos.  With this kind of energy and enthusiasm, I’d be sure of it.

SBS will present a feature story on the Football United Festival 2009 during The World Game on Sunday, 20 December 2009.

Join and follow Football United on Facebook or Twitter.

Donate to Football United through UNSW.

One Response to Football: The great humanitarian

  1. Jun Kurata says:

    It was a really busy day for me. A great day! Smiling kids give me fantastic energy.

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