By Lily King. This piece is part of our March 2013 focus on Sport and Human Rights.
I filmed this story last year as part of my Journalism course at RMIT University. We were given the assignment of making a two-minute news report on the broad subject of Asylum Seekers.
My first instinct was to make something that reflected my own disgust with the immigration policies being put forth by both major political parties and challenge the current rhetoric of the majority of the popular media.
When brainstorming how to do this effectively, however, I struggled to find a story that would do anything but add my voice to the chorus of those espousing a more compassionate approach and thus do little to further my argument.
I decided instead to make the piece about an initiative put together by the Richmond Tigers Football Club and Dana Affleck, a friend of mine, to get former asylum seekers to AFL games.
Dana had been visiting different detention centers since 2010 and had made a lot of friends there, some of which had since been granted refugee status and were living in Melbourne. Because of strict regulation of employment for refugees on certain visas many of them have very little chance of getting to go out and enjoy expensive recreational past-times such as watching professional sports.
Dana, a Richmond supporter from birth, thought going to the football might be a good way to entertain the guys while showing them something that was quintessentially Melbourne. She approached Richmond asking for free tickets to a game, and they obliged instead with 45 season passes.
In the right environment, sport can play an extremely constructive role in building community, belonging and harmony. Although in some ways it can be divisive, sport more often unites and connects people who otherwise may have little to do with one another. Whether it’s shouting yourself dry with a stranger at a game, or joining a local club, sport has the ability to develop a sense of community.
When I went to a game with Dana I was wary that the group would encounter the type of racism that sometimes haunts the sporting field, but was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming the crowd was. The guys seemed to enjoy the game and Richmond had made thirty new fans.
In the end I was happy with my story being more of a PR puff piece than an impassioned cry for justice. The initiative is still political, because it’s about attempting to make former asylums seekers feel welcomed rather than rejected. It’s not about assimilation but about extending the hand of friendship. So think about asking your team if they could spare some seats, or your local club if they could waive entry fees for some new players because it’s small initiatives such as this that can make a difference in the lives of recently arrived refugees in Australia.