Sport creating new hope and friendship

Updated: Jul 6

✦ It’s been said many, many times before - sport has an uncanny ability to transcend boundaries, language, race and religion to unite people and cultures all across the world.

Once you step onto that tennis court or football pitch, take to the track or pool or lace up the boxing gloves, you are united by one common denominator and all else is put to one side, even if only momentarily.

Sport and friendship go hand-in-hand in many ways and the examples of deep-rooted, genuine friendships being forged between opponents over the years are seemingly endless.

Here we focus on just two examples of how sport and friendship have offered hope to unite people and create meaningful relationships, no matter the odds.

Football (yes football, not soccer!) is widely-regarded as the global game, played in the streets, alleyways, fields and beaches of the world by a multitude of nationalities and religions. Relatively safe and cheap to play, it is an accessible sport that can be played anywhere as long as you have a flat-ish open space and a couple of jumpers to set down as goalposts.

Two Kids PLaying Street Football, Featured on Brilliant Online
Football, the global game played everywhere, even on the streets - Photo credit: Unsplash

Friendship is always the winner

It is also a sport that is built around freindships, be it with your teammates or opponents.

Many a life-lasting friendship has been forged on the football pitch contesting hard fought matches. Once the game is over it’s back to the bar for a couple of cold beers and a recounting of the day’s events - win, lose or draw, friendship is always the winner!

Aussies are world-renowned as a friendly bunch and no more has that been evident than in the recent case of Afghanistan’s national women’s football team who fled their homeland and the Taliban to seek refuge down under.

The women had become a target back in their homeland and their safety was jepordised after the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021 and were quick to implement their strict interpretation of Sharia law.

Afghanistan’s national women’s football team, Featured on Brilliant Online
Afghanistan’s national women’s football team - Getty Images

Female oppression under Taliban rule is notorious and the idea of women playing sport was incomprehensible to the new regime. The team therefore fled Kabul via Hamid Karzai airport shortly afterwards, many without their families, to seek asylum in Australia.

“If they were still there today they’d be at extreme risk,” commented former Socceroos captain Craig Foster, now an acclaimed Human Rights Advocate. “They certainly wouldn’t be able to play [football], nor to attend university, or for some of the young ones even to attend school.”

Foster helped the women with their relocation and managed to secure the team a place to play in Victoria’s State League Division 4 West under the banner of the Melbourne Victory Afghan Women’s Team. Along with big-hearted community members, supporters and volunteers within the greater Melbourne area, Foster has helped the Afghan women assimilate into the Aussie lifestyle and provide them the opportunity to play the game they so love without fear or recrimination.

The welcome they have received from their new neighbours has been critical in helping the women adjust and come to terms with the fact that many of them are alone, thousands of miles away from their loved ones and facing an uncertain future.

The welcome feel from new neighbours, Featured on Brilliant Online
The welcome feel from new neighbours - Photo credit: Unsplash

“These women and girls, along with all of the vast majority of other Afghans who came, came without families, they fled under circumstances where there simply wasn’t enough visas to go around,” said Foster.

“And so those most at risk were helped. I had to explain to this team that they couldn’t bring all of their families, and that's an awful place to be both for them and for those that are trying to help them,” he added. While being fully appreciative of the welcome and support they have received, the team has naturally turned to one another and formed an almost impenetrable bond of unity.

“The soccer pitch is the only place where we can forget everything such as those bad experiences we had in airports or in Afghanistan,” defender Mursal told the ABC. “We can forget we don’t have our families as well. When you don’t have them it’s so hard. Instead of them we have our second family, that’s our team. We’re like a family together, unbreakable.”

Women's soccer team in action on the field, Featured on Brilliant Online