In Australia, multicultural sporting initiatives have provided opportunities for Australian and migrant youth from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds to participate in local sport. At grassroots level, Melbourne’s non-profit organisation Centre for Multicultural Youth’s boyspace project trains newly arrived males aged 12–25 from Afghanistan in playing soccer, and some of these budding soccer players have won medals in competitions around the state. The Australian Football League (AFL) has given its first Sudanese-born player regular opportunities to play in its professional league. Through the Multicultural Youth Sports Partnership Program, the Australian Government consistently provides grants to organisations to help youth from emerging CALD communities partake in sport.
But do such pretty pictures of aspiring young CALD athletes on-field imply Australia is fully committed to fostering a welcoming, inclusive sporting arena for them? Not exactly.
Incidents in Australia where youths racially vilified athletes on-field point to the idea that not enough is being done to educate this demographic about appropriate moral conduct as a sport player or spectator. In May 2013, a 13-year-old girl racially abused Indigenous AFL player Adam Goodes as he played a pivotal role in one of his team’s games. In similar incidents this year, an under-15 Somalian footballer and 17-year-old Burundi-born soccer player reportedly had racist taunts hurled at them by fellow players while playing in the junior AFL league and grassroots soccer State League game respectively. Such naïve youths in Australia are rather ignorant of respectful codes of conduct for sport. If there actually are programs educating youths on acceptable spectator and player behaviour within school curriculum, they are not wholly getting through to youths.
It is interesting to note that there is a lack of diverse faces representing Australian sport on the international stage at a time when there are increasing opportunities for CALD Australian youths to participate in sport. Often on the media front, Anglo-Centric faces are the faces seen representing Australia at worldwide sporting events.
For example, press photos unveiling Australia’s 2012 London Olympics uniforms featured mainly Caucasian Australian athletes wearing the green-and-gold attire. Anglo-Saxon Australian players frequently dominate Australia’s World Cup and international cricket teams too. In other words, ever since Indigenous Australian Cathy Freeman’s time in the media spotlight as the nation’s coveted Olympic gold medalist sprinter, there are rarely, if almost none, African, Asian, Middle-Eastern, minority faces portrayed in the public eye promoting Australia sporting teams on the global stage. There are in fact multicultural young athletes competing at this level in recent years – Australia’s 2012 London Olympics badminton and table tennis teams boasted under-25 athletes of Asian descent representing the country.
Prominent multicultural athletes have the capacity to serve as role models for aspiring young CALD Australian athletes, encouraging the latter to excel in sport. Moreover, global sporting events are undoubtedly extremely popular and watched by millions of Australians, Australian youth from all backgrounds nonetheless and so it would not hurt to have diverse faces representing Australian sport.
In order to foster a local multicultural sporting environment, Australia needs to do more than just provide opportunities for young people of CALD backgrounds to participate in sport. Emotions run high during sport matches whether we are players or spectators and this is a good reason why naïve youth can get caught up playing/watching sport, exemplifying unnecessary racialised rowdy behaviour on-and-off field.
Holding sporting competitions involving players and spectators from different cultural groups within school curriculum programs could diminish discriminatory attitudes among CALD youth – Australian youth in general – within Australian sport. Classes explaining player and spectator etiquette could help too. As for increasing the representation of CALD young athletes in the public eye, it really is up to Australian media – and sport team selectors – to recognise that these athletes make valuable contributions to the local sporting sphere and in turn share their sporting achievements and stories. Ultimately, sport has the capacity to enhance a cohesive multicultural Australian society. This will inevitably hold true if we all hold utmost respect for and enthusiastically cheer on each and every athlete regardless of their race.
Photo Credit: Sport Without Borders