The recent arrests here in Australia about alleged threats to randomly kidnap and publicly murder an Australian member of the public has certainly brought the reality of the conflict in the Middle East to our shores. The issues and problems involved are unbelievably complex. So complex that it is easy to feel like there is nothing you can do to improve world relations.
I disagree. I believe that we can make a difference one person, one relationship at a time. And community sport is a terrific vehicle to make that difference.
I have been involved in community sport for a long time. I have been a senior coach of Australian Rules Football in suburban Melbourne, I coach an Under 15 Boys cricket side for the Oakleigh Cricket Club and I have been heavily involved in assisting and supporting the coaches for my eldest son’s local junior football team. My four eldest children are all involved in sport including basketball, hockey, gymnastics, school aerobics, cricket and Australia Rules Football.
The beauty of sport is that it brings people from different cultures together. This year we had three boys of the Muslim faith play in our premiership winning Under 14 football team. One of the boys is of Afghani decent and the other two boys are of Malaysian decent. They are three of the happiest boys I have ever had the pleasure to meet and are very popular with their team mates. Their families adhere to their faith and are wonderful people. It has been a pleasure to witness how the other boys in the team have supported their Muslim team mates throughout Ramadan. The boys play and have fun together. They are one. Their differences in faith is meaningless. They love and respect each other.
This year we have a boy of Chinese decent joining our cricket club. He has never played cricket before and his family have never had anything to do with cricket. They are on a steep learning curve. But so are we. As they are learning about cricket culture we are learning about their culture. Everyone is winning and everyone is learning how to see each other as equal human beings irrespective of our religious and cultural differences.
I remember when I was a senior football coach for the Monash Gryphons in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA). One of our team members was a student from Thailand and another was from Russia. Both boys were extremely popular because of their willingness to give our sport a go. But it was more than that. Everyone else at the club benefitted from Ott and Igor sharing their perspective on the world too. Once again we were all able to see each other as equals despite our differences.
It seems to me that the capacity to randomly murder another human being is in part born in not being able to ‘see’ that person as an equal human being. Therefore, any activities, whether they be through sport or in classrooms at school and university, where we have the opportunity to build relationships with fellow human beings who are different to ourselves ought to be where we focus our energy. If we can’t build relationships and tolerate the differences of people within our own communities, how are we going to have any real impact on the world stage?
The constant media reports that link people of the Muslim faith to terrorism have catalysed interesting conversations around our family dinner table. My children are friends with Muslims. They play sport together. My children know that their friends and families are not and will never be terrorists. My children express their concerns to me that only a very, very, very small number of Muslims are terrorists. They point out that people of other faiths are also terrorists. Despite the complexities of this topic I do feel more at ease when we have these family conversations. I am pleased that my children are friends with children of different faiths and different cultures. I am pleased that my children are exposed to their friends showing a commitment to their faith. It is the challenge to create a society where our differences are not a difference that gives me faith that we can make the world a better place. Community sport is the perfect vehicle to facilitate that reality.
Gary Ryan enables organisations, leaders and talented professionals to move Beyond Being Good.