Since Majak Daw burst onto the scene, the AFL has seen several players of African descent make their mark on the sport. But there’s plenty of room for more.
For many new arrivals from Africa, AFL is not the type of football they’re familiar with, as South Sudanese refugee Reuben William can attest to.
“The sport from my culture is soccer; my brothers still love soccer, I love my soccer, but footy’s definitely shot up there,” he tells SBS News.
The 20-year-old first picked up an Australian rules football when he was 11 and now plays in the Victorian state league.
He is passionate about players of African descent entering the game.
“The way I see it is; the more kids playing footy, the more integrated they are into the communities and the more opportunities they have to make friends,” William said.
June marks AFL’s inaugural ‘Africa Month’ – highlighting the contribution the African community has made to the game.
AFL Diversity Manager, Xavier Moloney, hopes continuing to celebrate the sport’s diversity will attract new talent.
“In particular with the African community, we want them to be a reflection across all areas of our game … whether that be playing at the elite level … umpiring … playing at community football level,” he said.
'Sense of belonging'
Akec Makur Chuot made her debut for Fremantle in the first AFL Women's season.
The 25-year-old spent the first 12 years of her life in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, before coming to Australia.
Her father died in the war and her mother was left to raise seven children alone.
From the moment Makur Chuot picked up a football at 13, she felt an instant connection.
“That sense of belonging and being able to play with different, diverse groups,” she said. “Back home I didn’t have those opportunities to be able to play sport.”
Makur Chuot says the chance to play footy helped her confidence both on and off the field.
“When you’re playing sport, it’s not really about the language you speak, I think it’s about the sport that you play … If it’s footy, we’re speaking the footy language … I think it made my transition easy.”
'On the right track'
North Melbourne utility Majak Daw, the AFL’s first Sudanese-born recruit, says sport is an avenue to motivate newly arrived youth.
“Over the summer, there was some negative press about the African community," he told SBS News.
"There’s an issue that we can fix together, it’s not too far out of reach, but I think we’re on the right track.”
He believes playing sport and being part of a team is an opportunity to learn from one another.
“I know a lot about my country, but I don’t know too much about someone from Senegal, or Kenya, or something like that. You know, although we are African, we’re so different and have different cultures.”
South African-born premiership player Jason Johannisen says it is encouraging watching new footballers develop.
“Through my time I’ve definitely met some South Africans who’ve caught my story and now are interested in footy, so it has a huge impact.”
“The kids that are coming up through the grassroots, they have so much talent and we want the best players in our game and the best people in our game.”