Playing It Forward

In 2003 at the age of 11, Kamal Ibrahim left all he knew in Ethiopia, his birthplace, with his mother and his six siblings to join his grandfather. Ethiopia, a land rich in culture had experienced decades of civil war and famines. Kamal’s family had migrated from Eritrea to Ethiopia. His grandfather had left Eritrea 30 years prior for Australia, setting up home in the City of Port Phillip, the new destination for Kamal, his mother and siblings.

Initially Kamal struggled with the cultural differences and language. He found it hard to make friends. Only 20 other people out of the population of over 78,000 in the City of Port Phillip had been born in Ethiopia (2001 ABS). Life was very different and difficult. One of the few things that remained the same from his native Ethiopia was the global game – football. He lived near the Port Melbourne Football Club and often frequented the grounds the ball around. He showed signs of talent, but football is an expensive sport. Many families, especially refugees don’t have the money to pay for uniforms, club fees, etc.

His talent did not go unnoticed by the Port Melbourne Sharks, the club supplied him football boots and paid for his registration. His football career had begun. When he started playing, he started making friends. Soon football and his new friends gave him a sense of belonging to the community.

“All of a sudden I felt like I belonged and started making friends, I could not wait to go to training, even though I could not speak English I could understand my teammates through football.”

Kamal played for the Victorian Institute of Sport before earning a scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport in 2009. At the age of 17 he turned professional. As well as representing Victoria, he represented Australia on 20 occasions. He played A-league with Melbourne Heart and he won the National Premiers Leagues 2015 Victoria Gold Medal – the league’s best and fairest award. Reflecting on his career, he has learned to work as part of a team, gained discipline and travelled the world experiencing different cultures. He has returned home to the club his career began with, currently playing in the Victorian NPL for Port Melbourne Sharks.

Playing It Forward

Kamal is extremely grateful for the sponsorship he was provided when he was younger. He has received so much from football that he wants to share how one game can have a positive impact on children’s lives. In 2018 he started a not for profit organisation called One Ball.

“I wanted kids from our diverse community to come together every Sunday and play the beautiful game, make friends and also learn life lessons”. 

Every Sunday afternoon, at Murphy’s reserve in Port Melbourne, boys and girls from the ages of 7 – 18 are welcome to join in. Some children are missing out on playing football due to costs or their talent (some clubs have trials to be accepted). One Ball has removed these two barriers – fees and trials. It is open to everyone and it is free.

“It’s all about bringing everyone together, seeing everyone from different cultures, different religions and when it comes to playing every Sunday, none of that matters, they’re all friends, they all high five each other when they score a goal or are working together as a team, everyone is just friends”.

In the future, Kamal would like to see his idea of inclusion and One Ball to become more popular. He would like to see more girls playing as well as adults. He would also like to see other organisations opening their doors/clubs for not only kids that can afford to play but accept all children that love the game and want to be involved.

Credits: Carla Skirrow, PORTogether Magazine

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