Hundreds of young refugees will have a brand new football at their feet when they arrive in their new communities throughout the country thanks to New Zealand Football and the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC).
As part of an equipment grant provided by OFC, New Zealand Football received 350 balls which will be delivered to children aged four to 16 years, starting with the latest intake of those forced to flee their homeland, who were officially farewelled at a moving ceremony at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland last week.
In attendance were several representatives from New Zealand Football and the Ministry of Education, as well as Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy and David Smol, Chief Executive for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Devoy is a former top-class sportswoman herself – she won four world squash titles in the 1980s and early 1990s – and took the opportunity to enjoy an impromptu kick around with the young refugees as they quickly made use of their new prized possession.
While having a football may be taken for granted by much of the world’s population, Devoy says the impact such a gift can have on the lives of those less fortunate should not be underestimated.
“You can see how much it means to the kids and the round ball is something that’s familiar to everyone, regardless of where they come from,” she says.
“Sport is one of the ways we can integrate these people into New Zealand’s way of life because it’s a fantastic vehicle for bringing people together. Football is global and you don’t have to know any language. Something as simple as a ball can bring so much joy because these people have nothing.”
Smol, whose ministry plays a key role in integrating the refugees into their new communities, agrees the donation of the footballs will have a big impact.
“It’s a really generous gesture by New Zealand Football and I know the work they do in local communities is going to be really important for these families as they settle into life here,” he says.
“Some of them are seeing grass for the first time and they won’t have had the opportunity to play football in the kind of facilities we enjoy. Hopefully, football will be a big part of their lives going forward and help them become an asset to our country.”
The facility at Mangere is the central processing and assessment location for all refugees who arrive in New Zealand and a thousand people pass through its doors each year. Its operation is overseen by Qemajl Murati, NZ Immigration’s Refugee Quota Branch Manager, who is grateful for the support of sporting bodies such as New Zealand Football.
“Today is a special day with the March intake finishing their six weeks with us, in which they undertake an orientation programme and assessments,” he says. “It was great to have New Zealand Football be part of our very important ceremony because it shows that the wider society – including sport and culture – is key to the success of resettlement.”
At the end of their time in Mangere, those who come through the programme are then placed into communities in selected cities across the country and Rakesh Naidoo, Strategic Advisor for the Human Rights Commission, says sports clubs can be hugely beneficial in helping them integrate into a new way of life.
“We know there are so many networks that get established through clubs – people get to meet one another, talk about jobs, culture and their lives,” he says. “So it’s a good opportunity for communities to connect with local clubs and also for local clubs to reach out and make these communities feel welcome.”
New Zealand Football Community Development Manager Jamie Milne works towards fostering these relationships and is looking forward to seeing the young refugees take the skills they have refined with their new footballs onto fields all over the nation as part of their resettlement process.
“A football provides an opportunity to make new friends, have fun and learn those fundamental movement skills that we know are important,” he says. “Our code also provides an opportunity to help these families with that integration process and becoming a Kiwi – not just for these families now but for their kids and grandkids in the future.”