The Socceroos’ journey to qualify for a seventh consecutive FIFA men’s World Cup starts tonight against Bangladesh in Melbourne.

With the south-Asian nation ranked 183rd in the world, 156 places below the Socceroos, it’s a match that the players and Head Coach Graham Arnold view as an opportunity to kick start qualifying for the pinnacle tournament in Canada, the United States and Mexico in three years’ time.

The match also coincides with a famous date of celebration for the Australian football community – 16 November. On that date 18 years ago, John Aloisi famously swept home a left-footed penalty to secure the Socceroos a first World Cup appearance in 32 years.

As well as the start of a new World Cup qualifying campaign, and a celebration of the Socceroos’ past successes, former Socceroo and PFA Life Member Craig Foster hopes the encounter with Bangladesh also shapes as a match that highlights the current situation for Rohingya refugees displaced by conflict in Myanmar. 

Foster, a prominent human rights advocate, recently returned from south-eastern Bangladesh, where he witnessed the declining conditions for Rohingya people in the world’s largest refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar. Some of the Rohingya have been in camp for more than 30 years, with the majority arriving six years ago, after 800,000 fled persecution in Myanmar in 2017.

“With so much need around the world, the Rohingya remain a stateless people for whom return to Myanmar is not safe under the brutal military junta and are forced to remain in Bangladesh for the foreseeable future,” Foster released in a statement on Instagram on Thursday.

“International aid is reducing to the point where food rations have recently been decreased from US$12 per month to US$8 per month. That is just 27 cents per day. It is below the basic needs of human beings and has led to mass malnutrition, disease, child slavery and the full implications of human desperation.

“Ahead of the game, I would like the millions of football fans in Australia and tens of millions in Bangladesh to keep front of mind that there are around one million refugees in the world’s largest refugee camp of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, which I visited several weeks ago, half of them children, who desperately need our help, the continued assistance of the Australian Government and the global community.”

Foster hopes his visit to Bangladesh, and the Socceroos encounter with them, draws attention to the conditions of the camp and the circumstances of the Rohingya, who he describes as “forgotten people”.

For PFA President Jackson Irvine, Foster’s work remains inspiring to the current generation of players and provides a source of education on global humanitarian efforts and the power of advocacy.

“Craig’s work in support of the game, the players and importantly his ongoing humanitarian efforts are hugely inspiring. 

“Through his recent trip to Bangladesh, he has highlighted the plight of the Rohingya and the critical role the Bangladesh Government continues to play in supporting them. 

“As players and PFA members, we have always cared deeply about football being a force for good, and Craig, through his work, continues to set the standard. 

“We extend our warm welcome to Bangladesh for the match tonight and look forward to the start of the World Cup Qualification campaign.”

The PFA also acknowledges the ongoing humanitarian crisis occurring in Palestine and Israel.  The PFA will provide further detail on the players’ response to the humanitarian crisis in the coming days. The thoughts of all of the PFA are with those impacted by the conflict.