Disadvantaged youth receive help to indulge their passion for football

Let's play ball … coach Aung Sung, with his charges Lionel and Chris.
Let's play ball … coach Aung Sung, with his charges Lionel and Chris.

CHRIS MASUDI has come a long way, figuratively and literally, since arriving here from a Kenyan refugee camp two years ago.

The transition has been a relatively smooth one, aided by the fact he speaks not only English but the universal language of football. However, there are some things that take a while to get used to. Like sitting on a chair, rather than a rock, when at school. Or being able to sleep in a room of his own rather than one overflowing with other African children. And knowing that, unlike his old home, there will always be something to eat in his new one in Albury-Wodonga.

Not that there aren't challenges. Chris, 17, and his brother, Lionel, 14 are promising young soccer players.

''Soccer is a big thing,'' Chris said. ''It's not that I just like it, it's something I'd like to do as a career.''

But they soon realised that they could no longer play the game they loved barefoot and without shin pads. Nor did their parents, Bahati and Maisara, have the money to pay for uniforms, registration fees or the other costs associated with playing for their local team.

But recognising sport's ability to integrate new Australians into the community, the Community Relations Commission set up the Refugee Youth Sports Sponsorship Program in 2009. As the name suggests, disadvantaged newly arrived youth have been given a hand with the costs associated with getting on the field. To date, 290 people under the age of 25 have benefited from the program and further funding will soon be unveiled by Minister for Citizenship, Communities and Aboriginal Affairs, Victor Dominello.

''They can make a huge contribution not only to the sporting teams but also their own lives and those around them,'' Mr Dominello said.

''Imagine one of these kids goes on to play for Australia and the role model that person then becomes.''

Good judges believe the Masudi brothers may well do so. Importantly, it doesn't matter if they don't. The program, unique in that the focus is not on the elite during an Olympic year, is about to be launched in 2012 and $35,000 will be provided.

''It goes to show that you don't have to throw millions and millions of dollars at problems to make a difference,'' NSW minister for sport Graham Annesley said. ''There's a whole range of social benefits which flow from sport.''

The full Masudi family story was given an airing on the acclaimed SBS documentary Go Back to Where You Came From. While the nine years spent in a refugee camp were tough, it was nothing to their life in Burundi. Bahati was routinely tortured, and Maisara's sisters were raped. The parents lost a child because they couldn't afford medicine. Chris and Lionel know all this and appreciate their new life.

''[The funding] is very helpful. It changes me … If they believe in us, anyone can believe in us,'' he said. ''Football is the one thing I have all my heart in. If they do this for us, why don't we give something in return?''