The power of football

Ahead of kick-off in The Australia Day clash between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, the game already had a winner.

Ahead of kick-off in The Australia Day clash between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, the game already had a winner… 77 of them in fact.

These were the men, women and children who chose that day to take their opportunity to become Australian citizens in a setting that was familiar to them all despite the fact they came from all corners of the globe.

The setting was at the football, the one place we can all call home.

I had the great privilege of hosting the ceremony out on the pitch ahead of kickoff as the conferees lead the 20,000 in the stadium in reciting the Australian Citizenship affirmation.

For me it was a reminder football remains the one true universal language, spoken by all those who play it. It is a most powerful force, building bridges between communities and cultures. This remains the games- most enduring asset, one that needs to be celebrated and nurtured and protected.

There are moments when the power of the game reveals itself to you in this regard.

I remember one night in Pretoria, South Africa, during the 2010 FIFA World Cup that spoke to me about the extraordinary power of the game to bring people together.

It was the round of 16 match between Japan and Paraguay. As the fans happily mingled ahead of the contest in a vibrantly festive mood, I wondered – what else could bring the Japanese, Paraguayans and South Africans together in one place for such a fabulous celebration?

Only one thing – football.

Similarly, for those taking the Citizenship Affirmation at AAMI Park last week, football offers them a welcome and a community in which they can make a start in building their new lives.

For generations of migrants arriving in this country, the game has been a sanctuary, a place to build community and create lifelong friendships, a way to maintain an older cultural identity whilst forging a new one.

Sadly, in the football revolution that swept away the old NSL and established the Hyundai A League, the games rich multicultural history became something of a burden for those trying to reshape the league into a contemporary product.

Rightly, the plan was to lower barriers of entry to the game where possible, and the ethnic and cultural components of the old clubs were seen as a burden.

Whether this was the correct approach is still a hotly contested issue for some, but there-s no doubt that the sectional interest that paralysed the game in the dying days of the NSL needed to be swept away, and it was.

Ten years on, it-s time to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution immigrant communities have made to the game and similarly, how important the game has been in helping hundreds of thousands of people call Australia home.

It-s a reminder to all that when talking about the game, accusations of or acts of racism do more damage to the game and its people than almost anything else.

We need to celebrate and cherish the rich cultural mix the game brings. Because wherever there-s a ball and a game, everyone is invited to play.

The views represented in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the FFA or Hyundai A-League