Sport plays a significant role in the lives of many Australians.
It keeps kids happy and healthy, families connected and communities active. It inspires, creates hope, and builds confidence. Above all, sport has the power to unite people regardless of their age, birthplace, gender, race, religion or social status.
If there’s one person who understands the power sport has to create social connections and build community harmony it’s Kiemi Lai, community engagement manager for the Western Bulldogs Football Club. She delivers educational and physical programs for newly arrived refugees and migrants, people with disabilities, people at risk and underrepresented groups in Melbourne. These programs use AFL and other sports to teach life skills as well as educate the participants about health and well-being. It also helps immigrants assimilate into society.
“Many of the students from WELS (Western English Learning Schools) come from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds and have experienced torture and trauma in their home countries,” Miss Lai told The Newsroom.
“We provide newly arrived primary and secondary school students with a memorable sporting experience and promote the positive benefits of sports participation. We also provide an opportunity for newly arrived students to experience Australian inter-school sports structures and etiquette,” she said.
“Our community programs are about building a stronger, healthier, engaged community in Melbourne’s west by working with underrepresented individuals and groups, community partners and services and building community harmony.”
Sport not only brings together families, communities and nations. It also changes individuals, by developing teamwork, communication and also providing people with a sense of importance and accomplishment. As a Turkish migrant who grew up in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, the Victorian Minister for Sport, John Eren, knows the power sport has in shaping identity.
“Sport was an important part of my life and a way of breaking down barriers with youngsters my age. I made some great friends on the sports field, and learned precious skills about life that have stayed with me for decades,” Mr Eren told The Newsroom.
Sports clubs are where young people learn valuable skills they will use throughout their lives, and they’re often where they find their first role models outside of the home. The Victorian State Government wants sport and recreation to play a part in all Victorian communities. This goal will be funded by the $100 million Community Sports Infrastructure Fund and Sporting Club Grants Program to give Victorians access to safe, modern sport and recreation facilities and activities – irrespective of their age, gender, cultural background or where they live.
“The fund is helping communities update tired grounds and build the facilities they need while the grants program is giving clubs the tools, resources, and knowledge to help them grow,” Mr Eren added.
As Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” − Emma Kamil
Top photo by Emma Kamil.