Omar sports high hopes

Central Leader - - NEWS - By LAUREN PRIESTLEY

WALID Omar can’t re­mem­ber much of life in Afghanistan but foot­ball is one thing that sticks out.

The 22-year-old Mt Roskill man and his fam­ily came to New Zealand as refugees in 2000.

He is part of the Refugee Youth Ac­tion Net­work (RYAN) foot­ball team which took out the New Zealand Com­mu­ni­ties Foot­ball Cup this month.

RYAN was formed by Refugees as Sur­vivors New Zealand (RASNZ), an agency that pro­vides men­tal health treat­ment and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for refugees from war-torn coun­tries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Burma.

Omar started play­ing foot­ball for fun in Afghanistan as a child and joined Cen­tral United Foot­ball as soon as he ar­rived here aged 8.

The game has al­ways been an es­cape from re­al­ity, he says.

‘‘I’ve ba­si­cally grown up with foot­ball. When I’m play­ing foot­ball I for­get about ev­ery­thing else.’’

The strength of the RYAN team was a sur­prise be­cause they had not played to­gether be­fore the tour­na­ment, Omar says.

Refugee play­ers from Auck­land, Wellington and Hamil­ton make up the team which had its first group train­ing ses­sion just be­fore the two-day tour­na­ment kicked off on Novem­ber 30.

‘‘We came up with this idea to make a strong team to play in the tour­na­ment. It worked. I knew we were go­ing out there to do our best but I didn’t think we were go­ing to win it. It felt great.’’

Omar has hopes of be­ing se­lected for the Auck­land City FC team for 2014. He was in the club de­vel­op­ment academy in 2010 but had to pull out af­ter a back in­jury.

It has been a hard road to re­cov­ery but Omar says win­ning the Com­mu­ni­ties Cup with RYAN was a step in the right di­rec­tion.

‘‘Stay­ing away from foot­ball for nearly two years was so frus­trat­ing. I’m slowly get­ting back into it but it’s taken a long time.’’

RASNZ com­mu­nity

ser- vices man­ager Arif Saeid says foot­ball can be a taste of home for many refugees – it is of­ten the main sport in their home coun­tries.

Win­ning the cup is a huge ac­com­plish­ment for RYAN, he says.

Im­mi­gra­tion con­sul­tants Mal­colm Pa­cific spon­sored the team uni­forms and match fees as part of the Refugees as Sur­vivors pro­gramme in Auck­land.

Op­er­a­tions man­ager David Cooper says sport­ing tour­na­ments are a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to bring cul­tures to­gether.

‘‘We’re re­ally proud to see refugees mak­ing such huge gains in the sport­ing com­mu­nity.’’

The New Zealand Com­mu­ni­ties Foot­ball Cup was in­tro­duced by the po­lice in 2008 as a way to con­nect di­verse com­mu­ni­ties and en­cour­age so­cial change.

Twelve teams rep­re­sent­ing 14 eth­nic groups com­peted this year.


Top tro­phy: Walid Omar of the refugee foot­ball team RYAN with the New Zealand Com­mu­ni­ties Cup.

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