Why football has so many diverse reasons to celebrate

From Afghanistan through to Zambia, they are the footballers who represent every corner of the globe and showcase the sport here in Australia.

The 13 clubs across the A-League and Westfield W-League are surely the closest that one country can come to representing a United Nations of football, a literal A-Z where our diversity is championed through the playing of one sport.

As Harmony Week kicks off to showcase the array of Australia’s myriad cultures and creeds, it’s never been more evident how football in this country represents modern Australia.

More than half of FIFA’s 211 member nations have been represented here at some in the past 16 years of the A-League and Westfield W-League and before that in the NSL and the National Women’s Soccer League - through visa players flown here specially to the hundreds of Australian born or bred footballers with recent overseas lineage.

There are unique stories of friendship at every level and age: Milos Ninkovic and Bobo became friends at Sydney FC after playing each other in the UEFA Champions League, on club football’s most prestigious stage. Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord were childhood friends and then Westfield W-League opponents and teammates before heading to the English Super League.

Kerr and Foord have become English Super League opponents after sharing the Westfield W-League spotlight for many years
Kerr and Foord have become English Super League opponents after sharing the Westfield W-League spotlight for many years

This week the Australian Professional Leagues will celebrate Harmony Week with a range of stories and videos to underscore the way football brings so many parts of the world together on our doorstep. It’s a timely theme to counter the offensive messages which footballers, like all public figures, can be exposed to on social media.

At every level from grassroots to the elite, football is a sport with a unique ability to allow immigrants and refugees to assimilate and immerse themselves in Australian life.

Wanderers defender Margaux Chauvet and Brisbane Roar attacker Golgol Mebrahtu were born 12 years apart and both came to Australia after fleeing civil unrest in parts of Africa either side of the millennium. Yet both have spoken of the way football gave them a sense of belonging and a currency with which to make friendships in their new homeland.

“Football is the ultimate melting pot, and that’s represented as strongly as anywhere in our two premier competitions,” said Leagues Commissioner Greg O’Rourke.

“Our celebration of Harmony Week doesn’t just highlight so many great stories about our game, it shows how the sport can be such a positive influence.

“We are proud of our diversity, and proud that football acts as a platform for so many people from so many backgrounds to find common cause.”