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Police and international students unite through soccer

International students from more than 37 countries took to the sands of Coogee Beach to play police officers in the third annual friendly Beach Soccer Tournament on Sunday 27 September.

Joanita Wibowo and Serena Dong

Almost 200 students of all ages played round-robin matches from 8:30am, cheered on by thousands of spectators who enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere full of music, food and dance – despite the rain.

“Soccer, the world game, is a terrific way to celebrate different cultures and what they bring to the Australian community, while promoting social awareness and inclusion,” said Detective Superintendant Gavin Dengate, Corporate Sponsor for the Safety of International Students.

The event began in 2013 with Latin American students as a way of forging high levels of trust. This year the tournament hosted participants from Africa, Brazil, Chile, China, Columbia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Middle East, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Det. Supt Dengate said the tournament is growing in size and popularity each year. “The event is really about celebrating diversity. The tournament also offers a great opportunity for police to interact with students, help them feel welcome in their new community and work toward stronger relationships of support and trust.”

A police team made up of officers from around Sydney, the Hunter Valley and Illawarra played teams from schools, TAFE colleges, English language schools and universities.

“I think it’s a good opportunity to meet people and have a good soccer match. I also think that this built a connection, some kind of chemistry between the international students, together also [with] the police.”

– Hal Le, a student from Vietnam.

Several students in the competition agreed that the chance to play soccer attracted them to this tournament. Hal Le, a student from Vietnam, said: “I think it’s a good opportunity to meet people and have a good soccer match. I also think that this built a connection, some kind of chemistry between the international students, together also [with] the police.”

Bangladeshi graduate student Anup Sarker of the University of Western Sydney said: “I got to know different cultures and made some new friends from Columbia, India and Malaysia.” He won the tournament’s award for the Strongest Display of Community Spirit and Support.

“They’re playing in a different team but it’s nice that we are connecting with each other from all over the world. This type of event actually brings all the people under the same umbrella,” he said.

Ratama Jumroonsiri from Thailand said she attended for fun. “It’s good because [people of] many nationalities can have a chance to see each other.”

Chilean team member Amanda Barrera-Perez was keen to see how her team’s fitness stacked up against the police officers. “It’s quite nice to see how good they are in their ability, because the policemen are trained to be fit,” she said. “It’s quite good to see how we can be against them.”

After an intense grand final match against police, the Chile team won the day 1-0.

With the high numbers of international students studying in Australia, the NSW Police Force aims to build bridges of trust with them to help ensure their safety, while recognising that many international students fear police officers based on personal experiences in their home countries.

“The beauty of this event is that we can show the students that we are approachable,” said police officer Dean Lindley. “If they are in trouble, they should come to us.”

Eastern Suburbs police officer Claire Smith agreed. “It’ll be good for us to make a good connection and build a relationship with international students so they feel comfortable talking to us, and in approaching us if they have any issues,” she said.

The event concluded with Chile team as the 2015 champions and Newcastle team as the runner-up. The community award was won by India as the proudest supporter base, whose singing, dancing and drumming entertained the crowd and had the police dancing. Cultural exhibitions and police displays, food stalls and entertainment by Ghanaian group Karifi added to the fun.

Det. Supt Dengate said he plans to continue engagement plans with international students through educational institutions and social media. “The more we can do that, the more we can get to talk to the kids and the more they’ll trust us,” he said. “We want them to know that they can approach us, talk to us, and we’ll help them in any way we can.”

The event was sponsored by Study NSW, Department of Premier & Cabinet, and Randwick City Council, and supported by Multicultural NSW, publisher of The Point Magazine.

NSW Police Beach Soccer won the International Students Community and Engagement Award for 2015. 

The Point

Students from more than 37 countries took to the sands of Coogee Beach to play police officers in the third annual friendly Beach Soccer Tournament.

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