FOOTBALL is a way to connect emerging ethnic communities in rural, regional and suburban areas with the wider Australian population.
Football is a game that provides an opportunity to overcome barriers; because it is the world game, people understand it in almost every nation across the globe and it does not require proficiency in the same language.
This is why the Ballarat City Football Club and the Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council have developed the Interkultura Football Festival as a way to welcome and connect communities by encouraging intercultural participation and supporting inclusion.
By connecting regional intercultural communities through a love of the sport, street food and music, the event aims to promote regional football, friendships, social cohesion and community harmony.
People from emerging ethnic communities know and love the sport, with many youth wanting to participate locally but often facing cultural and financial barriers.
Ann Foley, Executive Officer of the Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council, said the event was developed to not only promote and support diversity in football but to reflect the growing diversity in the city itself.
The event is an opportunity for people from refugee and migrant backgrounds from all corners of Victoria, who have been through a lot of hardship to arrive here, to participate and connect through a football tournament.
We're part of a large regional Victoria, so Interkultura is a way to promote the regions and to provide opportunities for people from emerging communities by connecting them through a celebration of the world game.Anne Foley
"The club's been a real champion of our objective, which is to promote diversity and harmony in Ballarat as the city becomes more and more diverse.
"It is also to support the needs and talents of people who are coming here from refugee backgrounds."
At a pilot tournament hosted in February there were teams from many different ethnic groups - Karen, Hazara, Rohingyan and diverse African ethnic communities, with even more emerging cultures to attend the upcoming event.
There was one unexpected outcome for the organisers. Many of the people who attended the day, including many from Myanmar, knew each other from home or met in camps previously before dispersing around Victoria to start their new lives, so the day was an emotional reunion.
Interkultura tournament coordinator Elisabeth Bridson tears up whenever she thinks about one comment made to her from a player on one of the winning teams: 'You have given me one happy day in my life'.
Participating in a professional tournament is critically important for these people, many who have endured, and many who are still experiencing, intense hardship.
BRMC chairman and member of the Ballarat Italian Association, Chez Dichiera, said sport was a great way to build connections within a community.
From his point of view, as a member of an established ethnic group, sport helps with assimilation and acceptance and so he believes it is vital to encourage participation with emerging ethnic groups.
Ballarat City FC supports many players from refugee backgrounds, both socially and financially, and provides them with an opportunity to participate to foster their natural sporting talents.
Academy Director of Ballarat City FC, Philip Weigall, said the club had many fantastic players from migrant and refugee backgrounds, many who are leaders to younger players.
It's fantastic for us to have these boys playing for our club. There are so many positives - the community connections and the ability to break down barriers.Philip Weigall
"But as far as the boys at the club are concerned, no matter what background they are from, they're all just players and mates. They are the players who they catch a ride to soccer with when they play in Melbourne, or catch up with for a kick," he said.
"We are glad we can help these kids who may not otherwise have had the opportunity, but what we get back is enormous."
Lunorphare Folly loves football. He grew up in western Africa without many sporting opportunities, but soccer is one way he remembers people connecting in his town, from grandmas and grandpas, to tiny toddlers.
"In our little town we had a small pitch in the middle of the village. We would have one ball for six months and no matter what, people would be there kicking it. If you could kick a ball, you would play soccer," he said.
The pitch was dirt and the players did not wear shoes, but for Mr Folly, who started playing as a child, the memories evoke a smile.
He arrived in Ballarat in 2008 and started playing football with the Ballarat Devils the following year. He went on to play with Ballarat City FC for six years before moving over to the Vikings.
Since his first day at Ballarat City, Mr Folly said he was made to feel like a valued player and was supported financially and with transport to get to training and games.
He wants to make a career out of football, whether as a player or as a manager. He and many of his friends will play as part of an African team at the event.
A dinner will be hosted at Civic Hall on Friday, October 18, hosted by former Matilda and Olympian Tal Karp.
She will be joined by former socceroo, human rights ambassador and SBS chief football analyst Craig Foster, patron of Interkultura, who will lead the pre-tournament community dialogue with local footballers of refugee background.
Tania Bardsley, multicultural community liaison coordinator at Ballarat City Football Club, said apart from the fact the weekend would be fun with the chance to meet athletes, it was also a chance for community members to participate in creating community harmony and social cohesion.
"The festival is cross sector in terms of community, human rights issues, for people who are interested in sport, in food or in music - there's really something for everyone," she said.
Foster will also open the all day intercultural football tournament for players of refugee background the following day.
The event will kick off at 10am at the Ballarat Regional Soccer Facility and will include an intercultural football tournament, world street food cooked by A Pot of Courage, girls-only football skills clinics hosted by the Melbourne Victory FC community, street soccer and community activities.
It is hoped the event will be hosted regularly.
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