“The Towards Zero Unity Cup, eleventh year of the event, started small,” said Jackson Taylor, Diversity Projects Coordinator, AFL Victoria, “with Essendon FC and Victoria Police setting up a match between law enforcement and people from diverse backgrounds so that they could get to know each other.”
“And that has grown into what we see today - 26 teams, eight grounds going and around 300 participants representing diverse communities from across Victoria.”
Representing the multicultural community in Gippsland were the AFL Gippsland team, including participants from CMY’s Youth Advisory Group, sports engagement programs, and their friends.
After 4 weeks of weekly training sessions with representatives from AFL Gippsland, the 8-member team played their first ever competitive game of footy against multicultural teams from organisations such as the Australian Federal Police, Islamic Council of Victoria and FIDA.
Members of AFL Gippsland team, also know as the Gippsland Panthers, are all between 18 – 22 years of age and come from a range of cultural backgrounds such as Zimbabwean, South Sudanese, Indian and Australian. This is the first time that most of them have ever played footy.
“The first game we played was bad! But we improved over the day and watched how others were playing and learned more of the rules,” explained Takudzwa Gwara, better known as TK, the captain of the team.
“This has taught us a lot about teamwork and communicating,” said the honorary female member of the team Israa, “We supported one another.”
Hawthorn FC also came out in support of the young team and supplied them with custom-made guernseys in brown and gold.
“Sport is such a great way to bring everyone together and make them feel like they’re a part of a bigger community”, said Ananth Pathirana, Community Programs and Partnerships Coordinator at Hawthorn Football Club.
“Even though they’re from different sporting backgrounds, we’ve introduced them to footy and they’re really enjoying it, which is what’s most important.”
The AFL Gippsland team won 1 out 4 qualifiers and came very close to winning their final match against Leader of the Pack from the Western Bulldogs community programs.
“We learned so much about the game, and from watching people play,” said TK, “Footy has been a lot of fun. Soccer and footy are very different, so we didn’t know what to expect. But it’s not that bad. Some of us might end up playing [footy].”
“We definitely had fun and will be back next year.”
The AFL Towards Zero Unity Cup is an AFL initiative where multicultural teams from across Victoria play for the Unity Cup. CMY would like to extend special thanks to Hawthorn FC, AFL Gippsland, the Australian Federal Police and AFL Victoria for supporting the AFL Gippsland team.