Steve Meredith, NRL Social Inclusion Programs Lead, this is his story.
Sport is my passion and my dream came true when I made my professional debut for the Sydney Roosters. It’s a big moment for anyone, but especially somebody from Samoa, a small island in the Pacific.
Playing footy in south Auckland there were lots of Pacific Islanders just like me. We moved there when I was four and by five, I was already playing Rugby League. It was great for me being young and playing with people who understood me and I shared common ground with.
Moving to western Sydney when I was 12 was a big cultural shock. I suddenly went from being part of a majority to a minority. Sport is what bound me to my community in Auckland so pretty soon I was playing with the local footy club in Merrylands.
Rugby league made me feel I belonged to a new community. I was playing alongside Australian Lebanese and Iraqi kids and spending time in their homes with their families. Before long I was also the only kid without a Lebanese background in my class to learn Arabic in high school!
I feel really blessed to have been exposed to so much diversity in western Sydney. I made my debut playing first grade for the Roosters at the age of 20. I wouldn’t have made it that far without embracing diversity, challenging myself with other perspectives and stepping outside my comfort zone.
Unfortunately, my professional career was cut short after I suffered a major knee injury and spent three years having operations. The injury wasn’t easy to deal with but I stayed involved in the game I loved and finished a teaching degree in health and physical education.
Diversity is success, on and off the field. Any good team is founded on respect, inclusiveness and true collaboration. For me that means respecting and embracing diverse cultures and beliefs as well as different roles on the field. Each team member has a part to play and you need to work with others to be successful.
Now as the NRL’s Social Inclusion Programs Lead I work with schools, Junior Rugby League Clubs and youth to promote the positive social outcomes through the game. We work on diversity and multicultural programs for young people all over western Sydney including newly arrived migrants.
I’m proud of our programs like ‘In League In Harmony’ and the Harmony Cup which promote social cohesion and tackle youth disengagement, racism, bullying and gender inequality through sport. The young people involved learn to embrace differences and how to work effectively in a team on and off the field.
I can vouch first hand that sport is a powerful tool for promoting inclusion, a sense of belonging and positive, healthy communities. In my role I now get to give back to the sport that has given me so much and teach kids that respect and diversity go hand in hand with success.