A New Ball Game

In a culturally diverse place such as Werribee, local groups and clubs play a huge role in bringing the community together as one. With the appointment of a Multicultural Development Officer in 2013, Werribee Football Club is the first VFL team to commit to such a pressing responsibility head-on.

The man picked for the job was Majok Ngong, better known as ‘Shaggy’ to all those he works with at the club. After moving to Australia from Southern Sudan in 2005, Shaggy became involved in the community by doing youth work, before being offered the position of Multicultural Development Officer just under two years ago. And while the role has so far been successful, Shaggy says that he’s faced some hurdles when reaching out to certain groups in the community, especially when it comes to language barriers.

“My job is to try and integrate all the cultures and invite them to the club as much as we can. The process has gone well so far but there are definitely a lot of barriers at the moment. We’ve been using sport as a great avenue to overcome that though, because sport can eliminate all the other barriers. Everyone is speaking the same language when we play sport,” he says.

To overcome this, WFC focuses heavily on teaching the game of football to children from migrant or refugee communities, primarily through their Multicultural Schools Program. As football is such a prominent and iconic part of Australian culture, the program aims to increase the participation of children and families in sporting clubs by making the sport more accessible to them. By giving children the opportunity to learn and play football, Shaggy says many find themselves feeling more accepted and comfortable in their local community.

“Wyndham is such a diverse area and it’s growing everyday so football is a great way to create awareness in the community. Most importantly for the young kids, it’s something that gives them the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and create a sense of belonging somewhere else,” he says.

According to Shaggy, the children he meets at schools and on multicultural days are always happy and excited to learn how to play football. Rather, it’s often the parents who can be somewhat hesitant about the idea. This, however, is not a situation all too foreign for him…

“When I was growing up and playing soccer in Australia, my mum would never watch one of my games. And now with my younger brother, she’s taking him to the games and watching them so it’s changing slowly, and the reason for that is that they’ve adapted to the society, so they’ve learned to accept what’s going on around them and embrace that,” he says of his own experience.

While at the moment WFC is the only VFL team to have a dedicated role focusing on the multicultural community, Shaggy hopes that its success will influence other clubs to do the same in the future.

“There’s a lot of benefits for having a Multicultural Officer,” he says, “not just for the fan base, but getting the people to feel a sense of belonging and that they’re a part of something.”

At the end of the day, that sense of belonging is crucial for such a wonderfully diverse and growing community such as Werribee to thrive. As Shaggy approaches his third year in the role, he and the Werribee Football Club hope to continue bringing people together through the sport they all know and love.

“Footy is a game with no colour, so hopefully the program will continue to promote that side of it,” says Shaggy.

By Kara Ready

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