Girls kicking goals for cultural melting pot

Image courtesy of The Australian


Originally published by The Australian.

On the first night of training for the Bankstown Bullsharks, an under 15s girls Australian football team in southwest Sydney, Olivia Cole turned up to an empty field.

“Not many people knew about it,” she said. “I think I just kicked the ball with the coach a bit.”

Within weeks, the field was full. Girls, passionate about footy, came together to play under the Bullsharks’ banner.

The range of cultural backgrounds is impressive: Anglo-Celt, Lebanese, Fijian, Italian, Japanese — the list goes on.

The Bullsharks will compete next weekend in the AFL Multicultural Round, which celebrates the unifying effect of sport. The round will include a multicultural festival on Saturday at Sydney Olympic Park.

“There’s around 15 girls and they’re all very nice — we get along very well,” Aneeqah Ali, 14, said. The 14-year-old, a student of Al Noori Muslim College, joined the team after her school offered the sport. “We play on Sundays … They’re rough, but we’re trained to face that,” she said. “AFL is so much more fun. Hopefully I can get into some bigger comps.”

It’s Aneeqah’s third year playing the sport. The first year, her 13-year-old sister Aqila watched from the sidelines. Last year, she ran right in. “My sister got into it first,” she said, insisting they’re not “that” competitive at home or on the field. “We have our own things we’re good at. I play forward … I score the goals.”

Olivia Cole has a similar fire for the oval ball. “This is my second season,” she said. “I just watched my brother, he started a season before me and is in the under 17s. It was actually my Dad who got the idea in my head. My other sports weren’t working out, I needed something new.”

Nickie Flambouras, AFL multicultural programs manager for the NSW and ACT, said the round was a chance for people to remember how many cultures the sport has touched. “Australia is a country that is multicultural and we want to use sport as a way for migrants and those from diverse backgrounds to connect into their communities,” she said.

“We want to offer all people an opportunity to play and support Australia’s game and give talented athletes, male or ­female, from overseas opportunities to be a future elite player in the AFL.”