Six teenagers who have overcome disadvantage and hardship will represent Australia in Brazil during FIFA’s Football for Hope tournament, featuring more than 30 teams from around the world.
It is an event that celebrates diversity and encourages social change through football: two things UNSW’s Football United squad reflects perfectly.
Almost all of the players, selected from a number of Football United programs operating across Sydney’s west and south-west, were born overseas. And all have overcome significant obstacles since arriving in Australia.
Sudanese-born Farous Nghath hopes her role in the squad will challenge some people’s perceptions about women in sport.
“When you come to Australia you’ve got a massive opportunity to do a lot of things you wouldn’t be able to do back home,” she said. “Especially for me because it’s against culture and stuff. For a girl, you’re not allowed to play sport.”
Amer Yawar was 8 years old when he arrived in Australia as a refugee from Afghanistan.
At first, both football and the English language were tough for him to grasp.
“When I first started playing I was a bit scared, but now I love this game,” he said. “I coach now. I coach primary school and high school kids. So yeah, it’s going really well at the moment.”
Rounding out the side is Serbian Ljiljana Jojic, Peruvian Marco Trujillo, 15-year-old Aurin Jones; and former Afghan refugee, Shegofa Hassani.
All are now part of a growing list of success stories emerging from the program, according to its founder Dr Anne Bunde-Birouste.
“We’ve had kids access TAFE, jobs, university,” she explained. “One of our 2010 Football United team members is on an international exchange. It’s really levelling the playing field as they say.”
Football United heads to Rio later this month.