Twenty20 helps asy­lum seek­ers break down bar­ri­ers Down Un­der

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

SYDNEY: A shared love of cricket is help­ing a team of Sri Lankan asy­lum seek­ers break down bar­ri­ers and build re­la­tion­ships in Aus­tralia, even among some of the most fer­vent supporters of the coun­try’s hard­line im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

The team’s name, Ocean’s 12, is a tongue-in-cheek ref­er­ence to the way many of the play­ers ar­rived in Aus­tralian wa­ters, part of a wave of Tamils who made the jour­ney to Christ­mas Is­land on over­crowded, rick­ety boats.

“Hor­ri­ble, starv­ing, no wa­ter, big waves,” open­ing bats­man Praveen Uruthi­ran said of the jour­ney, which cost him $2,000 and in­volved 22 days at sea with 120 other peo­ple. Like his team mates, Uruthi­ran ended up in Villa­wood De­ten­tion Cen­tre in Western Sydney with hun­dreds of oth­ers, un­able to work or study while their asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions were pro­cessed.

Some of the team had been in the cen­tre since ar­riv­ing in Aus­tralian wa­ters six or seven years pre­vi­ously when Last Man Stands, who run eighta-side leagues around the world, started run­ning a com­pe­ti­tion for de­tainees.

They then struck upon the idea of or­gan­is­ing an “exit side” made up of asy­lum seek­ers who had been re­leased from the cen­tre on re­stric­tive tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion visas to play in the main Sydney league. “When the guys first came out of the de­ten­tion cen­tre and first got in­volved in the com­pe­ti­tion, they were all really shy, their English was poor, they had no con­fi­dence at all,” re­called Last Man Stands or­gan­iser Rob Steven­son. “The early games they played, they really weren’t a good side. I re­mem­ber play­ing against them the first couple of times and you could see the tal­ent was there, but they didn’t have the con­fi­dence to ex­press them­selves on the cricket pitch.” Steven­son said that changed when they be­gan to build friend­ships.

Im­pres­sive im­prove­ment

“As a re­sult of play­ing to­gether, making new friends, feel­ing more part of Aus­tralia, they have emerged into an ex­cep­tional crick­et­ing side and that’s great to see,” he added. The team showed im­pres­sive im­prove­ment over the first two years and in March Ocean’s 12 be­came cham­pi­ons of Sydney. Team cap­tain Stephen Nathan, an en­gi­neer, left Sri Lanka in the wake of the coun­try’s civil war.

“I couldn’t stay there”, says Nathan, who is still un­able to work in Aus­tralia un­der the terms of his visa. “We are really en­joy­ing play­ing cricket,” he told Reuters af­ter Ocean’s 12 had beaten a char­ity side by 84 runs on the back of an 18-ball half cen­tury from Praveen. “We are very happy to play with Aus­tralian peo­ple. They are sports­men all, so they are very (wel­com­ing). “And it gives me peace of mind.”

The team, who are helped fi­nan­cially by Blue Moun­tains Refugee Sup­port and Last Man Stands, is not only the best team in the Sydney area, it has be­come one of the most pop­u­lar. “Th­ese guys play right out in Western Sydney and there’s a lot of guys there, white Aus­tralians, who really have a pretty poor opin­ion of asy­lum seek­ers and the whole boat­peo­ple thing,” Steven­son said.

“But what you find, when th­ese guys come to games, they bring along food, they help out other teams, they’re al­ways po­lite and now they’re by far the most pop­u­lar team in Western Sydney and all the other teams love them. “So it’s great to see sport tran­scend­ing the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial bound­aries, and all th­ese other Aussies see­ing them as just like them, they love cricket and so do we.” — Reuters

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