Page Oval is far from Canberra’s best-known sports arena.
But its fields are home to a football club that, for some new Canberrans, plays a much bigger role than sport does in most lives.
- Afghan refugees founded the Canberra Kangaroos in 2013
- The club is playing in the ACT state leagues this year
- Players face significant off-field difficulties, including uncertain futures
The Canberra Kangaroos was founded nine years ago by a group of Afghan refugees. It entered the annual refugee tournaments held around Australia.
But this year it’s gone mainstream. For the first time, the club is toughing it out in Canberra’s state league competitions.
Its secretary, Ali Ekhtyari, said that while the Afghan community began the club, it now had players from Pakistan, Brazil, South Sudan, Iraq and Iran.
“This club is based on inclusion, to prevent isolation that refugees and migrants often face,” he said.
“It’s really helpful for those migrants who don’t know what to do, how to come out of the isolation, from loneliness.
“This is a good place to be with each other.”
Pitch battles a relief compared with off-field stresses
Some of the club’s players face tough challenges away from football.
Goalkeeper Rohullah Hassani has a temporary visa and is fighting hard to bring his family to Australia.
“We have been separated from our family a long time, a decade now,” he said.
“It’s very hard. Every day it’s depressing and we are worried … back home, it’s not very safe, mentally we have lots of stress.
“We are just hoping for [the] new government to give us a chance to bring our family and start a life here.”
However, Mr Hassani said finding a welcoming community in Australia had softened his situation.
“I feel proud and I feel much better since I joined this club,” he said.
Reserves coach Mohammad Aamir said bringing together so many cultures had presented communication challenges.
“It was difficult at the start, I’m not gonna lie,” he said.
“A lot of the boys, they’ve come here maybe a year or so ago, and some of them have been here a bit longer,” he said.
“[Seeing] the guys who’ve been here for a bit longer… bring the other boys in and show them the way, it’s what’s brought the team together more.
“We all understand football to be a universal language and it’s been really good just getting the boys together and understanding their stories, where they come from and how they’re able to transfer that onto the field.”
One of the new players, Hekmat Frotan, moved to Australia last year.
“The most important thing when you come to a new country is to make new friends, to make connections and then, whenever you find something difficult or whenever you face a problem, there should be somebody who [can] help you,” he said.
“It is more than a football game for me — I came, I met new people, I made new friends, I made a new family actually, which is brilliant.”