“So, where do you come from?”
A simple question offered up to me by a lovely hairdresser when I first arrived in Sydney as a fresh-faced 20 year old. Naturally, I responded by telling her about the small coastal town on NSW’s north coast that I recently moved from. When I asked her the same question, she said Afghanistan.
In that moment, I realised two things. One, I had no idea where Afghanistan was. And two, she didn’t mean the cocoon I grew up in, but rather where I inherited my dark appearance from. Looking around me in that tiny salon in Parramatta, the world suddenly became very big and my wide, brown eyes had no idea about what it was looking at.
My hometown was one of those places where everyone knew everyone and for the most part, the community was Caucasian as well as Indigenous Australian. Of course, we were taught geography and history, but when you live in a bubble like we did, those stories were like fantasies that happened in places far, far away.
Fast forward 15 years and I have brought a little girl into a very different world. One of beautiful colour, culture and diversity of many kinds. When she turned three, she first starting asking about skin colour. By four she tried to teach herself Spanish by watching Dora. And by five she was chatting about marriage equality to anyone who would listen.
Now she is six and attends primary school with children from all different backgrounds. She is a never-ending flow of questions and curiosities, which makes me both wildly excited and just a tad nervous. After all, I grew up in a town where diversity was just a word in a spelling bee.
From day dot I made it a point to help her understand the world around her – where people came from, why they spoke different languages – but I still struggled with actually being able to show her how wonderful diversity is. My one true love (apart from my husband) however, is the epitome of diversity and inclusion – and the perfect learning ground for building a kind, understanding and accepting child – sport. More specifically, rugby league.
Every four years, the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) takes centre stage on the sporting calendar, bringing together some of the most inspirational, culturally diverse and exciting athletes from all around the world.
It’s the perfect breeding ground for answering questions, sharing knowledge and creating excitement all within the framework of a fun and invigorating sport that so many know and love. When I watch the competition this year with my family on Australian shores, in October and November, I can already anticipate that my daughter’s mind (and mouth) will be racing…
"Where’s Papua New Guinea?"
With teams coming from all over the globe including France, Samoa, USA, New Zealand, Lebanon and Scotland, there’s no better geography lesson at a parent’s disposal.
As each different team takes the field, it’s the perfect opportunity to get Googling and learn simple stats around where each country is located, their population, weather and the language(s) they speak. This is the perfect canvas for painting the picture of multiculturalism – the differences between each country, but also the similarities.
"Are the rules the same in every country?"
Many times we have seen people or organisations try and pit nationalities against each other. They point out their differences, whether it be colour, religion or language, anything that separates us from them, creating a massive divide.
Rugby League celebrates diversity and is the same the world over. The same rules, the same game, the same athletes. The game does not discriminate. And each and every year, as the game grows, we witness the level of inclusion and diversity increase with a new country joining the league, English athletes joining the Australian competition or women proving their strength and determination in a traditionally male-dominated sport.
Like the players, the game referees also come from a number of different countries playing within the RLWC which again, showcases that the skills required to do their job is the same no matter where they come from.
"Why is that man yelling so much?"
The war dances and hymns that many teams engage in prior to their games are thrilling and beautiful. Ever since I was a little girl I was enamoured by the fierceness and passion within the Haka. Now, with the RLWC showcasing war dances or musical performances from many countries including Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, it shows the cultural diversity in our brothers and sisters around the world. And I won’t lie, it is one of my most anticipated activities throughout the whole competition – it’s not just diversity in theory, it’s diversity in action.
In saying that, not all teams have a traditional dance or song. But they do have their own 'air' about them that screams "I am proud of where I come from". England, for example, always carry this sense of royalty, always poised and strong in their stance (a great opportunity to chat about the royal family and their connection to our sacred land). And Ireland, perceived larrikins with surprising grit and determination. Lebanon, such pride and always a tough competitor. Tradition isn’t just in the way they dance or how hard they sing, it’s built into their very souls.
Rugby league is at the forefront of diversity, especially with this year’s competition including the very first standalone women's tournament. They’re fierce, strong, inspirational women that girls and boys of all ages can look up to.
When I was a kid, I eagerly watched my brother play from the sideline, pom poms in hand, unable to play.
But now, my little girl has the opportunity to play the greatest game on earth and not just participate but excel, with kids from all different walks of life, together, as one.
This year, I can’t wait to take my daughter to a game and show her diversity in action. We'll be watching the games played and experiencing all the colour, culture and action in real life. It's an amazing opportunity to satiate my daughter’s thirst for knowledge and the more that we do as parents to open conversations, the brighter the future looks for everyone. That's a team I definitely want to be a part of.
What's the best lesson you've taught your child through sport? Share with us below.
This content was created with thanks to our brand partner, Rugby League World Cup 2017.
In 2017, the best players and teams from around the world will descend on Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea for the Rugby League World Cup. The men’s tournament will see 14 teams play 28 games over five weeks from 27 October until 2 December 2017. The women’s tournament will see 6 teams play 12 matches over three weeks from 16 November until 2 December 2017. For the first time in the sport’s history the two world cup winners will be crowned on the same day at Brisbane stadium. Tickets are on sale now from RLWC2017.com.