Former Adelaide United star Bruce Djite shares with us his family background, how they came to call Australia home, why diversity is so important and the role football has to play in promoting the benefits of multiculturalism.

“There weren’t many of us,” Djite responds when asked about the number of African families he was in contact with growing up in Sydney. “In fact I can’t think of one African family from school.”

Born in the USA to West African parents, Djite and his family moved to Australia when he was just three years old after his father accepted a role at the University of Sydney. “Growing up in Australia at the time there were not many Africans but there were people from all over the world and I knew Australia was a very multicultural place.”

For Djite a trip back to his father’s birthplace, the Ivory Coast, when he was six would have a significant impact on him.

“We went to the Ivory Coast for three or four months and that is where I learned to play football and went to school there and we became very clear on where we came from,” said the Suwon FC forward. “It gave us an eye opening experience; they don’t have the things we have, it’s a different culture and a different way of life and the lessons learnt there hold you in good stead.”

The trip proved to be the spark that would see the A-League Championship winner pursue a career in football. “On the way back to Australia I asked my Dad if they played soccer in Australia and he said ‘of course.’ I said I wanted to join a team and when we got back I registered for the Lindfield Under 7s.”

After starring in the junior ranks in Sydney, Djite would progress to the A-League via the AIS. There were no specific role models inspiring his rise in the sport, just pure desire, I just wanted to be a footballer and I always dreamt big and always thought I could do anything.”

This drive has taken him to the heights of the national team, to Turkey, China and now Korea. Each step along the way, Djite has continued to acquire a diverse group of friends which he says has been invaluable in shaping his identity.

“I have met a lot of people; the range of my friends is broad and I have a lot of very good friends. Some CEO’s, tradies and people in parliament – for me everyone has a story. It doesn’t matter who you are; you have some weaknesses, some strengths and everyone is equal and should be treated as such.”

It is this firm belief that has led to the forward taking an active stance in the fight against racism through his role with All Together Now, Australia’s only anti-racism charity.

“If you have a voice or if you are in position to help there is a moral obligation to do so. With All Together Now I can definitely do that. If a small organisation like All Together Now can make a difference, then I’m all for that, because there are a lot of good stories.

“Racism is a massive issue and we are seeing that more and more. Of course the world has always had conflict but there has never been more displaced people in the world. There are massive refugee problems and many people trying to instill very protectionist policies. That makes people feel unwelcome and unworthy.”

Football, for Djite, has a vital role to play in fighting intolerance in the broader community, especially in a climate where he feels ‘protectionism’ is emerging more and more.

“Football is very diverse for one simple reason – it is the most popular game in the world and it is played all over the world. You see time and time again how sport breaks down barriers. In 1998 the USA played Iran at a time when there was great friction between those two nations and for that fleeting moment it was not Iran vs USA, it was two teams going at it and may the best team win. Time and time again the game has brought people together when it would not have happened otherwise.

“We are going into an age of protectionist – ‘this is mine not yours, we are safe don’t bring your problems to me.’ If you look at a lot of things in Australia, especially in sport, we have a lot to thank immigrants for.

“Multiculturalism is a brilliant thing. I think diversity has been proven time and time again to benefit performance. Diversity is the key; you get different ideas and you break free of groupthink that can take hold.”