Gender and alcohol were the two most significant barriers for both sides. On the Anglo-Celtic side, many of the fears around women’s role in Islam were misinformed.
Age mattered for the Muslim-Australians. There seemed to be more opportunity to mix with non-Muslim-Australians during high school and tertiary education years. However there was also a tendency to come back to Islam as they entered their late twenties and beyond. At this time, there was a greater expression of religious boundaries, which in turn led to fewer opportunities to interact with non-Muslims.
Experiences of racism tended to discourage Muslim-Australian participants from reaching out to non-Muslim-Australians.
On both sides, only a very small percentage of people were involved in community organisations, yet these were the main way that these initiatives were organised. The challenge is to reach out to those not involved at that level, for example, through sport, or public space type activities. This accords with the Living Diversity research which found that only 11% of Lebanese Australians were involved with Lebanese cultural and social organisations (Ang, Brand et al 2002: 35).
The Anglo-Celtic participants in the study were the least likely to mix across cultural difference.
Most participants in the study had a preference for more interactive activities. However these need to be carefully managed so as not to frighten off the target audience.
This chapter features nine Australian case studies of initiatives run by local government or community based organisations to build better relations between Muslim and non-Muslim- Australians. Our focus was particularly on interactive type activities, rather than formal ‘seminars’ and the like. We also excluded, for the most part, formal interfaith dialogue models as these have been well researched elsewhere (See Bouma 2004).
The case studies come from New South Wales, Queensland, ACT and Victoria, and were chosen to provide a spread of initiative ‘types’, including women’s dinners, workplace based activities, sport based activities, an activity to tackle neighbourhood tensions, and home based interfaith encounters. The initiatives were:
Auburn Football Cultural Diversity Project
Coles Morning Tea
Home Encounters Network
Muslim Dialogue Project
Football United: Refugee Youth Soccer Development Program
Social Craft Group
The Cramer Street Neighbourhood Project
Women Helping Women
Women’s Dinner Project
The initiatives of focus were also selected to achieve a spread of ethnicities among the Muslim-Australian participants.
Case study: Auburn Football Cultural Diversity Project
Organisations: Auburn Council, Granville & Districts Soccer Football Association and approximately 6 soccer clubs in the region.
Contact: Mr Glen Harding, Youth Development Officer. Auburn City Council.
Phone: 02 9735 1226 Email: Glenn_Harding@auburn.nsw.gov.au
Funding: Living in Harmony Grant
Description of Initiative
Led by Auburn Council, this project helps refugee boys and men who have arrived in
Australia in the past five years to get involved with existing local soccer clubs. Refugees are offered reduced registration fees and they and their families are encouraged to participate in club activities such as cooking barbeques and helping out with competitions.
Players are expected to participate in information sessions to help increase their understanding of how to get involved in soccer. The sessions cover topics such as how to get involved in soccer, how soccer clubs function, basic rules of the game, and how to manage anger.
The initiative also offered soccer coaching and referee courses for anyone in the local community, regardless of how long they have lived there.
The initiative came about due to an increased awareness that refugee communities in the region were interested in and enjoyed soccer yet were not accessing mainstream competitions due to financial, social and cultural barriers.
… [For] migrants and refugee young people and communities, soccer has been a major sport, that they like to play and... how they like to socialise. But a lot of organisations and people were putting the time into organising different activities and games and communities but more on an ad hoc manner, there wasn’t really sustainability to it, a lot of communities were sort of just playing within their communities which is important as well but we thought there would be a need for greater integration.
The reduction or waiving of registration fees was a key aspect of the project as this was one of the major barriers to participation for refugee families. An important aim was to integrate refugee players into existing teams, rather than form ethno-specific ones. However where whole groups approached a club to form a team, it was not possible to be discriminatory on racial grounds and insist particular ethnic groups be split up.
There were two starkly different stories to be told of this initiative. It was, overwhelmingly a positive initiative, but an undertaking not without its challenges.
It appears that the under 16s junior refugee players were well integrated into the competition with few, if any problems. This is largely attributed to their age and the fact that these young people are integrated in other ways through school and so forth. Young players are also more able to learn new modes and codes of behaviour than their older counterparts.
Jeffrey (key Organiser/community worker): I think it had a lot to do with their age obviously they were senior teams too so it’s 18 and over, um that grow into those senior teams but I think for 18 and under they’ve obviously got a lot more connection with other people in the community, obviously through school and that kind of thing as well and obviously they have to be placed in teams according to their age group too….
Mohamed (club president): The kids, I did have a problem with, but I could convince them, the young ones. About 16. Once I give them a warning, they understand: ‘Listen, if you don’t behave, you’re gone.’ They do behave, but it’s just the older people.
Hugo (Coach): I guess the major thing is the cultures obviously. A lot of the children that were non-Muslim didn’t understand the Muslim culture and vice versa and I guess I was fortunate that I got the children at an early age and who’ve grown with it and because at this club we’ve got a zero tolerance.. we don’t tolerate any racial abuse from – no matter what side it is.. skin or colour or whatever, and we just try and promote good sportsmanship but anyway the thing is that … I found the children to be pretty well to, to – once they have a general commitment, or a goal, that they um, everything else is pretty safe.
Also successful for the most part were those players who were integrated into the main teams. It is likely that this had to do with the mentoring role that more experienced players were able to play. It was also successful in producing a more constructive relationship with those of other cultural backgrounds, working together for a common end (for their team), rather than a competitive situation where one ethnic group is pitted against another.
Interviewer: Who are your other … Muslim players...
Mohamed: Sudanese, Somali, Lebanese, Turkish...
Interviewer: and they get along well?
Mohamed: Yes. They do. They get along very, very well.
Interviewer: Any Anglos as well here?
Mohamed: Yes. It’s a very, very good mix.
Hugo: Now when they first played when they were little, there was a lot of anxiety, you know now when they played their fourth Grand Final together. Muslim boys and non-Muslim boys on the other team as well and we found out after the game I expected to be a little bit of friction and tension and I found that those boys even if they’d only played against each other in the last three years maybe 6 or 7 times they already made a bond, opposing teams. They respected each other as players and after the game there was no anxiety, there was no malice or anger it was like they all went up and they were all talking to each other it was like, they’ve been playing... since they were little you know and where’s that respect you know. And er, that to me is a result of all the things that you put in place.
The coaches and other representatives from the clubs involved were from various backgrounds, some Anglo-Celtic, others from CALD backgrounds, including Lebanese. An important outcome seems to have been a sense of empathy and understanding of the experiences of their refugee participants which was used at times to explain some of the more difficult anger related behaviour.
Mohamed: ...I mean, they’re refugees. Sometimes you think of the things they’ve been through...I remember a few years back, we had a kid at the Club. He was so violent against other players, referees, and the coach said, ‘I’ve got a problem with this kid. What do I do? He just doesn’t want to listen.’ And I was speaking to him. This guy came from the south of Lebanon, and in the south there is war between Israel and...and he’s seen a lot of violence, (aeroplanes and killing)...so I thought that this kid needs our help, you know what I mean? He’s got this anger. It’s us against you, you know what I mean? So we had to help him, work with him, slowly, slowly.
Jeffrey [The coaches] they seemed to have a great understanding of the community and what their needs was I mean was a coach with one of them who … was having trouble with one young boy who had a lot of anger issues, he had come from a refugee background … we offered to get some help in, to contact an appropriate organisation at counselling and he said no I’m happy to work.. within.. see.. about some results and this is a guy, he’s a volunteer.. and he loves soccer as well but he [has a] great affinity right with the boys.. …
There were significant issues with one particular group of adult players of Iraqi background who had formed their own ethno-specific teams, rather than integrate into already existing teams. Mid-way through the season both teams were suspended from the competition and the club for various breaches of the club’s code, and after repeated warnings.
Jeffrey: there was one stage when we did have to go to one of the clubs it was a senior team that was having some problems, not adhering to rules.. you know basically approaching...soccer, they were playing unregistered players, suspended players and that kind of thing, um and unfortunately that team was.. registered a number of players from the same country which we were trying to avoid because.. in the past it’s kind of been a bit disastrous…. Australian soccer so we’ve had to organise just to go out there and talk to them and tell them what the objective of the project and the rules of the game and to what they have to adhere to. So we had representatives from NSW Dept Sport & Rec and Granville Referees Association and Granville Soccer Association itself and we got an interpreter and we had like the coaches and.. captains of the football teams but unfortunately that didn’t’ work and..the week after they were both suspended from the competition!
The breaches related to playing unregistered players, heated tempers on the field, and in a number of instances, abusing the referee and the crowd on the sideline. There appeared to be three interrelated causes for this particular situation. First, this was a group of refugees who had had significant experiences of violence and trauma which is known to result in issues with anger. Second, the teams were entirely Iraqi, allowing for no intra-tceam mentoring on appropriate player behaviour in the Australian context. None of the players had experience with organised sport and were unfamiliar with the myriad of unspoken codes of conduct. Finally, due to the cultural and anger issues involved, the team was more likely than others to respond to taunts from opposing teams or respond angrily where decisions were made by the referee not in their favour.
Mohamed: the hardest thing, I found, was trying to get them to understand that there is a code of conduct here, there are rules that you’ve got to follow. But they seem to not want to follow that, and unfortunately I had no alternative half-way through the season but to terminate two teams….I’m talking about men. ... They just didn’t want to follow the rules. … But not just that – assaulting referees, you know? If a decision went against them. Abusing other players, like their crowd from the sidelines, friends and that who they bring...it gets out of control. It was going to get the Club a bad name, so...
And I did give them warning after warning. On top of that, I had to ring up the Association. I said, I need you to come to a meeting to talk to these people before I do anything about it.’ I got them to come down … and we sat down and we spoke to the captains and coaches: ‘This is what we expect from you guys. If you don’t want to follow that...’ You wouldn’t believe it – two days after that, they did the same thing.
A significant factor was racism, or perceived racism from referees, as well as racialised taunts from opposing teams aware that this is a useful means of ‘getting a rise’ out of the players who may then be sent off, giving a strategic advantage.
Mohamed: Look...it’s referees...they think, ‘The referee is racist!’ I think [it is just] the rules and things. I think frustration. Blood boils in the heat of the moment. And they don’t have patience! That’s where it explodes, you know …
Hugo: The only time I ever found any conflict was if there was a racial slur or something bad, that the Muslims took it very personally. It’s a very personal thing you know? And that’s one thing that the other boys didn’t understand because that’s their sense of humour.
Hugo: Yeah because it’s – it’s not – the boys are so competitive that um, you know there is a bit of friction and sometimes they use the cultures or whatever to um as a method of you know putting the other team off their game or whatnot, but um, in general I’d say that the children did respect each other and I found that the boys grown from a small age, from the age of 9 up to the age of 13, 14 now, yeah they do have- because they’ve come through to the club,
Finally, there were some cultural differences that the coaches needed to grapple with, although those we spoke with managed these quite well.
Hugo: My first experience with the Muslim boys was a bit of- was hard for me because I wanted to muck around and do things.. in some of the things they thought oh it’s not within their culture you know?... [For example] When we were training.. I’d say look I’d grab their leg and I’d say you got to bend it back and when I touched one of the Muslim boys and did the same thing he was quite shocked.. and then I realised that okay, this is not on you know. But it was just me not thinking. just say look … just little things like that. The food is another issue. We had to go – we had to divide where we buy our meat from and things like that. …Yeah but now we’ve gone – we just buy everything Halal now because it caters for everybody. And nobody feels- bothered to mind you know.
Hugo: And it’s such basic little things you know and that’s what we’ve had a lot of trouble with the boys here before because it was frustration within themselves because they didn’t have the skill to play. And there was anger … within themselves and then someone from the other team would say ah blah blah blah, then that would be on. You know? And like I said to you before, those, most Muslim boys from what I’ve- they take everything very personally and it’s very contradictive to the Australian lifestyle because we’re Australians, we’re larrikins we laugh at everything, we laugh at yourself you know? And I must admit it took me a long to time to get used to it as well, … But er- yeah mainly those things like they take a lot of those things personally.
Organisational and Sustainability issues
All those we spoke to about the initiative were convinced of its importance and wished to see it continue. The negative experiences encountered in this first trial provided some valuable lessons. The club manager involved with the unsuccessful Iraqi teams felt that more support needed to be given pre-season and also during the competition. He particularly emphasised the importance of funding for seminars and mentoring around player behaviour, and also mentoring for parents and spectators.
Mohamed: I think there was [some pre season training]. I think there was, but I really think there should be more seminars to get these people involved, that this is the way we do it in this country, you know? We’ve got rules here that we’ve got to follow, you know what I mean? You can’t just do your own things now. You’re not in the Middle East no more. You’re not in Iraq or other countries. I think with more seminars for these people, we can really get to their heads. … Yeah. We’ve got a big group here. There’s about two hundred people. We could sit down and start talking to them. And not just them – I’ve been trying to get seminars even up here, for the youth, and even for parents – how you behave on the sidelines.
The clubs appeared to feel as though they were left to fend for themselves with these issues, and emphasised the fact that they all relied on volunteer time and therefore really did not have the resources to provide this support themselves.
Mohamed: We [would like to] hold seminars. But it is hard because it’s voluntary work. People have other things to do. Before I got employed here I was doing eight, eleven hours on the weekend.
Parental involvement also tended to be quite limited. There was a level of assumed knowledge about Australian ‘Saturday sport’ that in fact was quite foreign to the parents. This particularly related to the role of parents and volunteers in club life.
Hugo: The difference is mainly from the parents. … the amount of commitment that the parents are willing to make to the children. A lot of the parents tend to shy away. I don’t know whether it’s because of um, they feel that they’re not – the language is not up to standard … but mainly that is the biggest difference you know, um,.. as you can imagine this club a long time was mainly Australian, yeah.. the Club has rapidly changed, so has the culture of the club because we’ve had a culture that was very community-based, everybody was involved in the club and we’ve moving to another culture now where the involvement’s not there
Funding for such programmes should occur on a three year rather than annual basis so that important learnings such as these can be implemented.
Funds should be made available for mentors to visit and work with the teams and their families and to liaise with clubs throughout their involvement in the competition.
Receiving teams and those in official roles such as referees and coaches also played a very important role and would benefit from some education programs surrounding racism in sport and how they might deal with the specific issues facing refugee players.
Education and information for referees and opponent teams is important as racism from these two groups can lead to antagonistic rather than harmonious cross-cultural relations.