They say sport and politics shouldn’t mix. And an African community leader in Australia isn’t about to fuse the topics.
John Nze-Bertram doesn’t want to get drawn into the irony.
Hours after Pauline Hanson presented her “anti-white” motion to Federal parliament, two African-born refugees made their Socceroos debut.
Awer Mabil scored for the Socceroos from an attack triggered by his fellow Kenyan-born teammate Thomas Deng.
Their feats came within three months of another Kenyan-born Australian, Joseph Deng, breaking the national 800 metre record.
Deng, pushed in the footrace by his Australian teammate and fellow former South Sudanese refugee Peter Bol, set the new Australian benchmark on July 20.
Just five days earlier at a Melbourne stadium, another pair of African-born Australians – Majak Daw and Aliir Aliir – captivated the AFL with a personal duel while playing for opposing sides in the elite Australian Rules competition.
Nze-Bertram, the chairperson of Celebration of African Australians Inc, expresses great pride at the achievements of the African athletes.
But he distances them from One Nation leader Hanson, who on Monday brought forward in parliament declaring “anti-white” racism was on the rise in Australia.
The motion was defeated 31-28 despite the support of government senators.
“I wouldn’t really like to talk about anything related to politics,” Nze-Bertram told AAP on Tuesday.
“The communities are really proud of some of these athletes. And there are other aspects of life as well, like politics, one of our African-Australians (Lucy Gichuhi) being elected to the parliament.
“They are having a significant effect on the community.”
Nze-Bertram said African-born high-profile Australian athletes such as Mabil, the Dengs, Aliir and Daw were perfect role models in a nation obsessed with sport.
“Getting to positions of responsibility in mainstream activities creates a lot of impressions on the younger ones, that they can achieve whatever they want to set their minds to here in Australia,” Nze-Bertram said.
“There is always this wall of discrimination of ‘oh, I’m black or whatever’ that some other people may be pushing across which then limits people’s ambition.
“But seeing these role models, not only in sport but also other aspects of life as well, encourages the younger ones to move on and just go and get it.”
Socceroos Mabil, 23, and Deng, 21, came to Australia when their families sought refuge from conflict in Sudan. Both settled in South Australia, where they first met at school.
Goalscorer Mabil said their Socceroos debut against Kuwait was “a big dream for us”.
“We have both opened doors for a lot of young Africans growing up,” Mabil said.
Deng described their joint debut as “surreal … amazing”.
Their Socceroos achievements were hailed by Aliir, who like Mabil was born in a Kenyan refugee camp to South Sudanese parents.
“This is just the start of something boys! Very proud of what you boys have been able to do, the door is definitely wide open for next generations of African youths!” tweeted Aliir.
Aliir made his AFL debut for the Sydney Swans in 2016 – the same year another South Sudanese-born Australian athlete, basketballer Thon Maker, was drafted into the NBA.
Another South Sudanese-born Australian, Mangok Mathiang, made his NBA debut in October last year for the Charlotte Hornets. He was waived by the franchise two months ago and has since signed with a club in Italy’s Lega Basket Serie A.
And other South Sudanese Australians including Kenjok ‘Kenny’ Athiu, Ruon Tongyik and Abraham Majok are currently on the rosters of A-League clubs.