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Ash Nugent is an AFL Community Ambassador and was the 2018 Community Ambassador of the Year. He is the founder of Masala Dandenong Football Club (Division 4, VAFA) and since moving to Sydney in 2015 has taken hundreds of refugees and other new migrants to AFL matches.

This is his story.

 

A few weeks ago I found myself in Bihar, India as part of the Schoolgoers project, working to establish a school for disadvantaged children unable to access a quality education. Bihar is home to 100 million people and of all 36 Indian states and territories, it is ranked lowest on the Human Development Index.

When travelling overseas, I pack a footy and endeavour to deliver a mini lesson on Australian Football for the locals. This trip, I had the opportunity to run a footy clinic for 25 Bihari children attending informal tuition at the Gautam Buddh Free Education Centre.

On the sands of a dried up riverbed, without goal posts or a proper boundary or even adequate footwear, these young kids had a great afternoon learning to kick and hand pass and then play a modified match.

At one point, even the impromptu game of cricket happening nearby stopped to observe what was a very unusual spectacle.

For others passionate about their footy, you don’t need to take a trip abroad to help grow the game in new markets. Since 2010 over 1.4 million permanent visas to Australia have been issued, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of short-term visas for students and workers.

In acknowledgement of Australia’s diversity, since 2013 the AFL has been running a Community Ambassador Program. The program supports volunteers to use footy as a vehicle to drive community strengthening. At the same time it looks to increase diversity in the sport, specifically in terms of fans, participation and workforce.

Support networks of recent arrivals are often small and limited to those from the same community, birth country or religion. Being hosted by a local at a footy match sends a powerful message of inclusion.

It is a significant return for what is a commitment of only a few hours each month.

 

Applications for the 2019 program have closed but you can find out about the mid year intake here.