By Michael Gartland

    In a world often divided by cultural and linguistic barriers, the power of sport to unite people from diverse backgrounds is remarkable. 

    Wednesday September 6 was a beautiful sunny day in Melbourne, made special by 350 culturally and linguistically diverse people of all ages from around the western suburbs having an unforgettable experience – an inner sanctum visit to the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground. 

    Sport is a universal language, allowing people of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities to come together. Known as the CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) play Gala, this day emphasized the importance of cultural inclusion and community support, showcased through participation in sport, and for school term 3 the focus was on Cricket.

    ‘It’s fantastic to be in the world’s largest cricket stadium. Ever since watching the (2022 T20 World) Cup it has been a dream of mine,’ remarked Iltaf, who could scarcely believe he was in this hallowed space, let alone getting a rare behind-the-scenes look at the world-renowned stadium. 

    As a passionate cricket enthusiast the MCG isn’t a mere building – it’s a symbol of his life’s aspirations. 

    Iltaf’s journey in Australia took a significant step forward through his participation in CALDplay, an initiative that introduced him to cricket in his new home. Now, he’s eager to continue his cricketing journey at a local club, giving him a chance to participate in a hallmark of Australian social culture; sport.

    Ali’s story is another of resilience and growth. Arriving in Australia in 2018 with limited knowledge of English, he embarked on a challenging journey of acclimatising to a new world. In 2022, he ventured into cricket, initially knowing little about the game. 

    Thanks to his participation in CALDplay and the support of dedicated coaches, Ali has made significant progress in his cricketing skills, now standing as an all-rounder that opens the bowling and bats second or third drop for his local club, Sunshine United. His ambition knows no bounds as he eagerly awaits summer so he can return to training for the upcoming season! 

    Ali’s success is a testament to the positive impact of programs like CALDplay in helping newcomers integrate and find their place in the community.

    A highlight of the day for these two young men and many others was their meeting with Western Bulldogs footballer and ex-cricketer Alex Keath. Keath won the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup with Australia in 2010 and then transitioned into AFL football through the Adelaide Crows. He has been with the Bulldogs for the last four seasons, where he has become a passionate advocate for the power of sport to change lives.

    ‘For me, and many of the other players, sport isn’t just about competition. It’s about the friendships and social networks that form the heart of the experience,’ he said. 

    With the tour of the MCG and the fully interactive Australian sports museum completed, hundreds of the young people poured out into the sprawling lush green fields of Yarra Park, where they participated in several games of cricket. Not one to miss out on the action, Keath was in the thick of it, using his expertise and experience to help coach the young girls and boys on the new sport they had just picked up!

    Many school groups were represented as they competed against one another. The eventual winners, Victoria University Nicholson, were presented with the WorkSafe cup, to mark their achievements. 

    Gavin Liddle, a teacher from VU, emphasised another vital aspect of sport. ‘Playing sport, keeping active, exercise is great for your brain … learning and exercise go hand in hand together!’

    The success of this unforgettable day at the MCG was made possible by the combined efforts of the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation, WorkSafe, The Melbourne Cricket Club and the Melbourne Renegades (an Australian cricket franchise), and their support highlighted the importance of inclusivity in sports. 

    The MCG has long been a symbol of Australia’s sporting culture, with many Melbournians claiming the title as the ‘world’s sporting capital’, but it is also a symbol of cultural inclusion and unity. 

    The stories of Iltaf, Ali and Alex demonstrate how sport transcends language and cultural barriers, allowing people from diverse backgrounds to come together and weave their uniqueness into the rich tapestry that is Australian culture. 

    Left to right: Ali, Alex Keath, Iltaf and Quasir
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