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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
14/10/2020
Issues facing diaspora communities in Australia

ODONG, Ms Angeyo (Ann), Digital Content Project Manager, Football Federation Australia

PICCIONI, Mr Ricardo, General Manager Government Relations, Football Federation Australia

Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Welcome. Mr Piccioni and Ms Odong—when she comes on the line—thank you very much for your time. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. Ms Odong, have you come on the line? No, not yet. Mr Piccioni, would you like to make a brief opening statement? We'll then proceed to questions from the committee members.

Mr Piccioni : Yes. Thank you for inviting FFA to appear at today's hearing. We are very pleased to take part. FFA is the national governing body for football—or soccer, if you prefer. We administer the professional and grassroots game through a federated model with nine state based member federations, including two in New South Wales. There are around two million active football participants in Australia and almost 2,400 community clubs. This makes football the largest club based participation sport in the country, and our numbers continue to grow with an increase of six per cent in 2019.

Football in Australia is founded in the multicultural history of this country, with diaspora communities coming together upon arrival to form football clubs that provide a cultural hub and a place to gather and celebrate a shared history and sense of pride as well as a sporting outlet. The proud history of these clubs lives on today with names such as Canberra Croatia, Sydney Olympic and Charlestown Azzurri. These clubs still exist at the very heart of their communities but, like wider society in general, their monocultural nature has over the years been replaced by a multicultural outlook, with a league of nations represented on the field of play. They still provide an important role in their community, and that role has never been more vital as we navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

As we're all aware, the physical and mental health of our nation has been and will continue to be severely affected by the coronavirus. Lockdowns and border restrictions have had a massive impact, and the most vulnerable, including those in diaspora communities, are particularly prone to isolation, social isolation and loneliness. Since the first days of the pandemic, we've worked hard to provide a suite of digital resources to keep the football family active and healthy at home in those days when sport could not be played. These include video skills challenges for the backyard and an array of social media content to keep people connected. FFA partnered with the Australian Red Cross and Black Dog Institute to ensure that individuals and communities had the resources they needed and stayed active and engaged.

It's out on the football fields where our sport makes the biggest difference to people's lives, and FFA is proud to partner with the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments to provide football products tailored to CALD communities and new arrivals. With Commonwealth support through the DSS and the Strong and Resilient Communities grant fund, our MiniRoos Multicultural Settlement Program provides football to new arrivals aged four to 11 in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. The program has been successful in assisting the settlement of many new arrivals, including those from Iraq, Syria and South Sudan, by connecting participants and their families with existing grassroots football clubs and offering opportunities for integration.

Through Sport Australia's Move It AUS participation fund, FFA has also developed a football program for women and girls within CALD communities called Football Your Way. The program format, delivery and marketing are designed to eliminate unique barriers that these communities, particularly women and girls, experience when participating in physical activity.

Football Victoria has joined forces with the state government to help at-risk young people stay on the right track by keeping them connected to their communities through a global love of football. FV's community and human rights advocate, Hakeem al-Araibi, has helped developed a program that will help re-engage young people aged 14 to 17 through a range of activities aimed at reducing antisocial attitudes and offending behaviours.

We have separately provided to the committee an interview with Ethiopian refugee Kamal Ibrahim, who has made a life in Australia through football and is engaged by FV and paid to mentor young people at risk through the Empowering Lives Through Football program, a case study of how important capability-building and employment outcomes are. Being part of the football family drives community engagement through a shared passion for and global familiarity with the sport, offering a welcoming environment from which to begin creating strong links within a local community.

The importance of CALD communities to football in Australia is outlined in FFA's new strategic document, XI principles for the future of Australian football. We are building strong programs and mechanisms for communication and interaction and this forms part of our 15-year vision for the sport. Diaspora communities have strong cultural ties and connections with football and often use the sport as a social cohesion tool and an effective integration instrument for new members. The 11 principles acknowledge these communities as central to the identity of the sport today and its ongoing narrative and recognise the significant opportunity available to enrich not just Australian football but Australian society more broadly. These goals can be achieved by evolving our sport's interactions with communities through enhancing engagement and collaboration and continued development of specific and targeted programs to increase opportunities for participation, especially for women and girls.

There is no better representation of the diversity of Australia than in our national teams, who are an embodiment of our diasporas and a source of inspiration and normalisation for those communities. There were 11 diasporas represented in the Matilda's team that played in this year's AFC women's Olympic qualification match. Fifteen ethnic backgrounds were represented in the Socceroos squad that won the AFC men's Asian Cup in 2015. The multicultural nature of football is also evident in our professional leagues. Up to the 2018-19 season, 150 international players from 27 countries had played in the women's Westfield W-League and 329 international players from 72 nations had played in the men's A-League.

With representatives from more than 200 nationalities and ethnic backgrounds taking part in our game, football is uniquely placed to provide diaspora communities with a focal point for community activity, increasing social cohesion and multicultural inclusion, particularly for the vulnerable. This not only benefits Australia here; it nourishes our international reputation abroad as diaspora communities have access to their original homes, where they can choose to celebrate Australia or be critical of our lack of support and inclusion.

FFA recognises that there are many people in diaspora communities, including new arrivals from other countries, who have a strong passion for football and want to participate but who may experience communication, financial or cultural barriers which impede their involvement. 'It was easier for me to make friends through football. I didn't need to speak English for me to connect with them because we had that common theme. We were playing football. I think that helped me build friendships and build confidence'—these are the words of someone who arrived in Australia as a 13-year-old refugee from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. No sport has more capacity than the world game to engage diaspora communities and provide a vehicle to break down barriers to their increased engagement in Australian society.

Finally, as a nation, we have an outstanding opportunity to engage with our diaspora communities when we co-host, along with New Zealand, the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2023, when 32 leading football nations will converge on these shores for the world's biggest sporting event for women. FFA looks forward to partnering with the government and securing investment to ensure that together we harness the power of the Women's World Cup to encouraged diaspora communities to play our game, join their local clubs, become a member of an A league or W league club and fully engage in our wonderful sport. Thanks again for inviting us to attend. We look forward to your questions.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Piccioni. I might just ask a question and then go to other members of the committee. I am interested in what the federal department is that you have primary engagement with? Is it the department of sport?

Mr Piccioni : Yes. In most activities we engage most directly with the Office for Sports through the Department of Health, and also Sport Australia. Through the programs that we run we've also had dealings with the minister for immigration, the Department for Social Services and other departments as well, but, yes, Sport is the primary body through which we communicate.

CHAIR: What about in terms of the states and territories? I think in Victoria that's been rolled into something with the part of the department that has sport within it.

Mr Piccioni : Yes. In Victoria there is the state government Sport and Recreation Victoria department, SRV—I think it was, but it may not still be called that.

CHAIR: I know. They keep changing the names around.

Mr Piccioni : And I think that applies to each of our member federations. They are primarily connected through the sport departments—whatever they may be called in that particular state or territory.

Ms Odong : And also, in some of the other states, it's the Department of Health as well as, in Victoria and in Western Australia, the Office for Women.

CHAIR: And do you think that has led, in Victoria, to greater number of women playing sport or being involved with the Football Federation? Has that driven an increase in participation?

Ms Odong : Yes, through a couple of different programs. In particular a couple of alternative women's programs, like GO Soccer Mums, are looking at engaging mums to be involved and to start playing the game. Those programs have provided alternative avenues for women to be involved in the game and have slowly driven participation. That pilot program has also been moved into New South Wales as well, with northern New South Wales having a program called Kick-On for Women. Again, that is about engaging women who traditionally have probably been the caregivers in relation to sport but are now moving into the game as well.

CHAIR: That's very interesting. Just on that, are you also getting women from diaspora communities or newly arrived communities? I am particularly interested in if young women are participating.

Ms Odong : We are in the preparation stage, which actually looks specifically at getting young women from diaspora communities involved, with a particular understanding of the cultural obstacles that are there. I come originally from Uganda; I came across as a refugee. We are working with organisations so that they can understand what the cultural obstacles are in making sure that we can address those so that we can get more girls from the diaspora communities involved in sport.

CHAIR: That is very encouraging to hear. I think that is a fantastic program.

Senator ABETZ: Thanks for your submission. As a senator from Tasmania, I can vouch for the wonderful work that the Football Federation does in my home state and also, from my other contacts, around Australia. So well done on what you do and I look forward to the extra opportunities that I think will avail themselves with us hosting FIFA in a year or two. When is that?

Mr Piccioni : In 2023.

Senator ABETZ: In 2023—thank you for reminding me. Your submission was full of very good, positive information and I usually like that. Often, the submissions to these committees are full of woe and doom so it made a very significant change, I must say. That said, however, what are the factors mitigating against the Football Federation being able to fully achieve its potential? A very quick question: if you were in control of sport in Australia for one day, what would be the issue that you would seek to address to assist the diaspora community?

Mr Piccioni : Thank you for your question—that's a very big question. I think that capability building and capacity building within sport to fully engage with diaspora communities is a really important part—enabling sports and football to make those connections with the communities and the capacity within sports to run effective programs that will really make a difference and produce positive outcomes.

That's a challenge that football certainly faces. We have definite designs to run more national programs. We have had success, as we mentioned in our submission. The MiniRoos Multicultural Settlement Program runs in three states and has been successful in terms of numbers, and also, I might add, won an award at the Migration Council's Australian Migration and Settlement Awards in 2019. So I think we're on the right track, but our sport definitely needs some support in terms of resourcing to enable us to develop a comprehensive program. That is certainly an opportunity that we wish to develop with the Commonwealth, to enable us to really fully engage and provide the programs that we know do work but which need to be scaled up, not only geographically but for different age groups—we would love to run those. At the moment, as I said, the MiniRoos program is for four- to 11-year-olds. We have aspirations and plans to develop the program further to the age group of 12- to 18-year-olds. We feel that would make a tremendous difference and would create some great positive outcomes.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you very much, and that does me, Chair. All strength to your arm.

CHAIR: An expression I always use, Senator Abetz!

Senator ABETZ: I think that you got it off me, Senator!

CHAIR: Do you have anything, Senator Fierravanti-Wells?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: No, other than to echo the comments that Senator Abetz has made about the work that the federation has done, particularly in my home state of New South Wales. I know that especially through the Italian-Australian community, and I just say thank you for the great work that has been done and the interaction that you've had with those communities.

CHAIR: Senator Rice?

Senator RICE: No, I'm fine. Thank you all for your work.

CHAIR: Senator Ayres?

Senator AYRES: I've very much enjoyed this, but I don't have any questions, thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Antic had to go, but he'll be back, and I think Senator Sheldon had another one. There being no other questions, we thank you for your submission and your time here today. I don't think you've taken any questions on notice, but we do really appreciate your time today. Thank you very much.

Proceedings suspended from 11 : 35 to 12 : 23