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Social inclusion should be prioritised in junior football

Walking football is developing around the world. (Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images)
Roar Pro
18th July, 2018
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In the wake of another FIFA World Cup examination, wherein the Socceroos’ lack of ambition and creative play has again been brought to light, football is yet again having to answer the same questions surrounding the shortage of youth talent, and the national team lacking a true identity.

The sense of misdirection has only been heightened by the comments of former Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou, who referenced the lack of support he felt for his aggressive style during the tournament qualifiers.

Postecoglou said the constant ‘underdog’ tag and competitive spirit with which Australia plays need to be developed and challenged.

Youth football continues to suffer from a lack of investment and true development of both facilities and coaching quality.

The increase in grassroots fees for junior footballers is yet another black mark against the administration of football wherein participation is dictated by whether parents are able to afford for their child to play.

Ian Holmes the CEO of the Canterbury District Football Association criticised the hike in fees, “I don’t call it the National Registration Fee,I call it the Participation Tax”.

Football’s greatest strength is its ability to unite and cut through social standings, which is slowly been taken away by the cost of participation. The FFA though are defending the hike in fees as FFA chief executive David Gallop has said the extra funds would help the programs for the junior national teams.

Organisations though around the country are looking to challenge this, ‘pay to play’, base by giving underprivileged and new migrants to Australia an opportunity to socially connect through Football.

The Cairns soccer Program is one of these programs which is run by Javier Suarez in partnership with the Australian Red Cross, PCYC, The Cairns Council, Cairns Safer streets, Centecare and the Benevolent Society. Javier himself is a Colombian migrant and personally understands many of the struggles that new migrants have moving to a new country including language and cultural barriers.

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The Cairns soccer program runs after school football games for kids 8-16 years of age in areas which in conjunction with the Cairns City Council are determined to be most in need. These needs range from financial disparities to lack of social connection within the community.

The areas which are currently covered include, Edmonton, Trinity Beach and Mooroobool with plans to extend the program over the coming weeks and months.

The program has also been able to build links with Local clubs including Edgehill Tigers and Saints Soccer Club who help cover costs such as registration fees, uniforms and transport for any boys that they take on from the program.

The program has also been able to build relationships with local schools including Cairns West State School and Balaclava State School.This holistic model reinforces the key principle of the Cairns soccer program of a positive social experience regardless of cultural and economic background.

The success of the Cairns soccer program has been able to create a broader project wherein other activities have been able to be offered including leadership camps and athletics. Javier though has not lost sight of the original goal of creating positive connections within communities, “If we can change the life of one child it would make my life”.

Football within Australia yet again finds itself at a crossroads but if we are to ever truly create a positive identity through our football team, models such as the Cairns soccer program need to be supported and encouraged as football is a sport which should be enjoyed and inclusive regardless of social and cultural standings.