On a still autumn Sunday afternoon in late May, Melbourne’s sporting attention was primarily on the happenings at the MCG where traditional rivals Carlton and Collingwood played out a Round 11 thriller.
But four kilometers west, across the CBD and into Docklands, another sporting event of significance was taking place.
At Ron Barassi Snr Park next to the Bolte Bridge, the Afghan Women’s National Team were playing in a Football Victoria Senior Women’s clash against Point Cook FC.
Prevailing 8-1 in a clinical performance, the win bumped them up the State League 4 West ladder.
But the game, and indeed this season, is about much more than football.
Players from the team were part of a 77-strong group of Afghan athletes, officials and family members dramatically evacuated out of Kabul in August last year when the Taliban seized control of the country.
Granted humanitarian visas by the federal government, the players have now begun integrating into Australian life and as part of that, they are playing in the local Victorian competition.
Many in the team feared they might never play again, such was the impending restrictions on women set to be placed on women.
This has already, tragically, begun to play out in their homeland.
A Taliban decree in May, for example, ordered female news anchors to cover their faces on air.
Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster, an outspoken human rights advocate, was one of several key figures that helped the athletes evacuate Kabul last year.
Mr Foster, along with several others, ensured the team could continue playing competitive football, albeit more than 11,000kms away.
“The Afghanistan Women’s National Team encourage us to think about women’s rights everywhere,” Mr Foster said recently.
To play sport, attend school, participate fully in social and cultural life. But also to think deeply about our own response to refugees in Australia and, perhaps around the world.
The team plays under the banner of Melbourne Victory, and championship-winning women’s manager Jeff Hopkins has taken the reins as coach.
Hopkins, who has been working with the squad since February, will provide his expertise for the duration of the 2022 season.
After the comprehensive victory on Sunday May 29, the team noted on its Twitter page: “Great win today. Another win at home game with @gomvfc thank you to our wonderful coach Jeff for leading us to victory. We love you.”
Notably, the team calls Docklands home, with home games played at the local ground named in honor of Ronald James Barassi Senior, located next to the Bolte Bridge at the western end of NewQuay.
The ground is primarily used by Docklands Sports Club; a burgeoning local club formed in 2019 that offers junior soccer, football and cricket programs and continues to grow its membership.
President Carina Parisella told Docklands News “how proud we feel about sharing our local home ground with the brave and inspiring women from the Afghan National team.”
Melbourne Victory director of football John Didulica said the club was honored to help in the way it had and was glad to be playing in Docklands.
“We’re incredibly pleased to call Ron Barassi Snr Reserve home for the Afghan Women’s Team,” he said.
“The picturesque venue truly reflects urban Melbourne and for this team to play here is a celebration of the city and what opportunities it can create for people from a range of diverse backgrounds.”
“Football is a sport for everyone, and to support this team’s return to the pitch with our resources at Melbourne Victory is the least we could do for them.” •
Captions: Members of the Melbourne Victory Afghan Women’s Team, with coach Jeff Hopkins (right) at Ron Barassi Snr Park
An Afghan Women’s Team player shoots for goal in their May 29 clash against Point Cook FC. Photos: Murray Enders.