Professional Footballers Australia (the PFA) is celebrating Harmony Day in 2019 by highlighting the diverse football communities of Victoria in partnership with Football Empowerment.

Established in 2016, Football Empowerment (“FE”) is a not-for-profit organisation based in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne, which uses football as a vehicle to run initiatives that aim to address social issues facing young people from disadvantaged communities.

The organisation was founded by a group of young people who migrated to Australia as refugees, who continue to actively play soccer and also reside in the western suburbs where the majority of FE programs are delivered.

During the Australia Day long weekend, FE hosted 22 teams composed of Australian residents, refugees and migrants from African countries for the inaugural Africa Nations Cup.

Over 600 people attended the tournament. Football Empowerment’s Tom Yabio said that the organisation was designed to provide positive social outcomes, as well as opportunities for young African-Australians in the community. Yabio helped found FE in 2016.

“It was [founded] with one of my friends, Osama Malik, who played at Melbourne City,” Yabio said. “We were just having dinner and talking about what football did for us, the person it developed us into. Then we were talking about disengaged young kids; why they are disengaged.”

With a number of tournaments held across Victoria by various groups from different African nations, Yabio decided in 2019 to bring everyone together for one big tournament.

“[We thought] why not bring everything together? So that’s why we developed the African Nations Cup – bring all African-Australian teams together and show what football has – it brings everybody together and unites people.”

Steven Langoya Okello, Manager of Team Uganda, said the tournament demonstrated the power of football in educating people on different cultures and countries and how it unified the participants.

“Football to us means a lot. Back home in Africa that’s our number one game that everybody loves. The good thing about football is that you get to know other places. Especially me, personally, through an atlas, I couldn’t learn about [other parts] of the world or countries, but through football, I managed to learn about other nationalities.”

Ibrahim Karneh, who represented Team Burundi, said the tournament demonstrated the power of football for individuals and groups.

“It’s just a beautiful game. When I play football, I just have this different feeling, everything I have just goes away when I step on the field, you know. It’s great.”

Following the tournament in January, a select team played a friendly match against Melbourne City’s youth team in Bundoora in February, providing not only the opportunity to play a high level opponent, but to expose themselves to professional football.

“I think it’s a great initiative taken by Football Empowerment, the PFA and Melbourne City,” Melbourne City FC Y-League Coach Joe Palatsides said. “It’s an opportunity for our boys to test themselves against the young talent that is being put on display and it’s also a great opportunity for us as a football club to be able to scout these young players who sometimes we don’t get the opportunity to see.”