The best of Australia has been on shown over the past three days, with the Asian Cup showing off our country’s diversity through colour, voice and football.
The reach of the tournament was in full display as Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane all played host to vibrant supporters from neighbouring Asian nations, with visiting foreign supporters galvanising local communities into action.
Australia boasts nationals from more than 200 countries, with almost 400 languages spoken in the land Down Under. Our accepting qualities may not always be on display, often not helped by political rhetoric, and patriotism isn’t always the most attractive character trait, but the Asian Cup is highlighting Australians at their best in 2015.
Supporting two countries – a mixture of your place of birth, your adopted country or your ancestors’ homeland – is perfectly acceptable in this country, and we should be thankful for that. And no other sport in Australia possesses the same reach, the same unifying passion existent in worldwide populations, as football.
From students, migrants, refugees and business investors, Australia has become home for many people hailing from different cultures, particularly those from Asia, and they have all flocked to stadiums to support football and the strength of diversity.
While Friday saw 25,000 green and gold supporters proudly cheer on the Socceroos in a 4-1 rout of Kuwait at AAMI Park, Saturday was a day for the large South Korean and Chinese populations in Canberra and Brisbane, respectively, as well as Saudi Arabians and Uzbeks – of which there are reportedly 1000 travelling around to support the White Wolves.
Raucous roars went up around the country as teams emerged victorious in their opening matches. When Wang Dalei saved Naif Hazazi’s spot kick in China’s 1-0 upset over Saudi Arabia, he was mobbed by teammates as the red-clad supporters in the stands erupted in relief.
When Server Djeparov floated an inch-perfect ball in for Igor Sergeev to finally break through a resolute North Korea defence, the hundreds of Uzbek fans jumped around in joy. Similar to the Socceroos’ four goals against Kuwait, the scenes were joyous and indicative of the country’s multicultural nature.
But it was in Melbourne on Sunday where the highlight of the Asian Cup was on show, and it came from the almost 18,000 fans who were decked out in green, red and white to see Iran take on Bahrain. The loudest cheers were reserved for the goals, with Ehsan Hajsafi and Maroud Shojaei sending Iranian fans into raptures.
The Iranian community were as loud as they come, the vision on the television more than likely nothing compared to watching the support firsthand. The atmosphere was reportedly banging, and one of the team’s star names, Ashkan Dejagah, described the cauldron of noise as “just like Tehran”.
Next up on Monday night is Japan and Palestine in Newcastle and Jordan versus Iraq in Brisbane.
The success so far, and the relatively large crowds, is largely thanks to a huge effort from Asian Cup community ambassadors, who have been busy mobilising ethnic populations and organising events to build support. There are 150 ambassadors across the five host cities, and Melbourne in particular has done a stellar job (naturally) in bigging up games featuring Japan, South Korea, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
They’ve helped make this celebration a possibility, and deserve a large slice of the credit.
And on Australia Day 2015, we should see a true reflection of Australian society when unified through a common cause. Forget those ugly scenes from 2005, football is in town, and there will be two sets of fans dancing in the stands of Stadium Australia for the first semi final – which could pit Australia against Iran.
What a spectacle that would be, a football fan’s dream. The Asian Cup is a great platform to strengthen ties with adopted countrymen, and a perfect place to begin understanding their culture. Now it’s down to the FFA to utilise these vibrant communities, and get them more involved in the A-League.