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Social workers set up Friday night soccer comp for local teens -

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NICK GRIMM: Now to a story about some of the issues confronting those who'll make up the next generation of men growing up in Australia.

In Sydney's south-west, there isn't much in the way of Friday night activities for the teenagers living there.

But local youth workers are trying to change that and they've set upon a new soccer competition that's already proved extremely popular.

Angela Lavoipierre has our report:

(Sound of whistle being blown)

TAHA MARABANI: All right. Guys, tell me your team name.

ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: It's Friday night in Lakemba and Taha Marabani has his hands full.

TAHA MARABANI: Your game's about to start. Let's go.

PLAYER: Let's get ready, boys.

ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: He's a youth worker with the Lebanese Muslim Association. The group started a soccer comp for local boys back in April, which has already grown to 120 players between the ages of 12 and 17.

TAHA MARABANI: A lot of young people: they just want something to do. There's not a lot of investment in these areas in southwest Sydney for productive things for young people to do, especially at this age and especially at this time of the week.

ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: The comp is run by social workers and Taha Marabani sees it more than just fitness and diversionary tactics.

TAHA MARABANI: If anything happened, if anything came up, sometimes there are young people who are having issues or troubles at home. Some of the staff here: they might later on during the week follow up with them, find out how the situation's going.

ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: Sydney's south-west is home to a large Muslim community. Taha Marabani says the program is not about preventing radicalisation, although it may have that added benefit.

TAHA MARABANI: The causes of radicalisation are issues that are common to every young person - so, a broken family, you know, a lack of opportunities, whether they are real or perceived, you know, low literacy and numeracy skills.

So basically the same factors that contribute to someone joining a gang would contribute to someone joining, for example, a group that's preaching hate or preaching something extreme.

ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: Taha Marabani tells me it's won over parents as well as their sons.

TAHA MARABANI: You know, we get a lot of parents that come down, shake my hand and tell me, "Thank you very much. This is fantastic." Some parents come down and say, "Look, let me get my hands dirty. I want to help out. What can I do?"

One of those parents is Bassam Alamezzine - and I find him manning the sausage sizzle.

BASSAM ALAMEZZINE: Gets the kids involved in something; gets them to look forward to something; and tires them out, too. (Laughs) So when they get home, they're not far from bed.

ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: He wants to see more programs like this one in the area.

BASSAM ALAMEZZINE: There's got to be things that gets the kids active. There has to be more activities like this.

ANGELA LAVOIPIERRE: For now, Taha Marabani plans to keep the competition at a manageable size so they can maintain a strong influence on the lives of the young people who come along.

TAHA MARABANI: You are the sum of the people who you hang around with, the people who are your friends. And so what we focus on is the strengths - and help them build new relationships, new friendships with the people that are actually going to improve their lives, as opposed to, you know, do the opposite.

NICK GRIMM: Youth worker Taha Marabani ending that report from Angela Lavoipierre.