By Paul Dobbyn
SRI Lankan asylum seekers playing in soccer and cricket teams around Brisbane have witnessed to the power of sport to build bridges with the wider community.
Several young men belonging to the Tigers Eleven Soccer Club and the Tamil junior cricket team told their stories at the Brisbane launch of the Australian bishops’ 2014/2015 Social Justice Statement, A Crown for Australia: Striving for the best in our sporting nation.
The bishops’ statement is launched each year ahead of Social Justice Sunday which falls on Sunday, September 28.
Archdiocesan Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive officer Peter Arndt said the young men had touched on the sorrow and hardship experienced since leaving their homelands.
“They spoke on the experience of living in Australia in community detention or on bridging visas without work rights,” he said.
“However, they also spoke of the power of sport to give purpose to their lives and to build bridges with the rest of the community.
“The Tigers Eleven Soccer Club was actually mentioned in the bishops’ statement as evidence of the vital role sport plays in the health of individuals, the life of communities and the inclusion of all in Australian society.”
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge launched this year’s Social Justice Statement at St James’ parish hall, Coorparoo, on September 17.
Mr Arndt said Archbishop Coleridge had shown his great love of sport during his speech at the launch.
“After his speech, the Archbishop presented the Baptist Soccer League’s best player trophy to the Tiger 11 team,” Mr Arndt said.
“The Archbishop also presented soccer balls to the team.
“The Tamil juniors cricket team also received a cricket bat and wicketkeeper’s gloves.”
A Crown for Australia: Striving for the best in our sporting nation also warned of threats to the nation’s tradition of sportsmanship.
It noted the “majesty of sport” was being threatened by a “win at all costs” mentality, associated drug and alcohol abuse by players and spectators, and gambling.
Australian Catholic Social Justice Council chairman Bishop Christopher Saunders in the statement’s preface said: “Sport holds a mirror up to our society.
“As the statement says, we like to think that it reflects the best in us as individuals and as a community – but we also have to admit that it can reflect the worst in us.
“Sport can show us a side to our society that is not only ugly but often unjust as well.”
Bishop Saunders also noted the statement drew its title from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “writing of an athlete’s rigorous training in order to win ‘a wreath that will wither’ (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)”.
“In the words of the statement, the athlete’s reward is ‘a forerunner of the imperishable crown that we are striving for in our spiritual lives’,” the bishop said.