Thursday, 10 November 2022
FIFA World Cup
We're less than a fortnight away from Australia's first game in the FIFA 2022 World Cup, and this week I was really proud to see the announcement of the Socceroos 26-man squad for the tournament. It was a squad that reflected modern Australia—confident, diverse and connected with every corner of the globe. It was particularly significant to see a record four African Australian players selected in the squad: Awer Mabil, Garang Kuol, Thomas Deng and Keanu Baccus.
As the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, I've been working to reinvigorate Australia's relationship with African nations, and a big part of Australia's connection with the African continent is the half a million Australians of African heritage who make a remarkable contribution to our nation. Over the next month, this contribution is going to be in the spotlight in the form of these four young Aussies on the biggest stage of all, in the biggest sporting tournament in the world.
The excitement machine, Garang Kuol, at only 18 years of age, is the youngest man ever selected to play for Australia in the World Cup. Kuol is a devastating attacking player, scoring in just five minutes after his A-League debut for the Central Coast Mariners before quickly signing for Newcastle in the premier league. Thomas Deng made his division III debut with the Western Eagles in my patch in Melbourne's west before going on to captain the Olyroos and to win player of the match in their famous 2-0 win over Argentina at the Tokyo Olympics, just down the road from where he now plays in the J.League for Niigata. Keanu Baccus rose to the elite soccer ranks via the Western Sydney Wanderers before signing with the Scottish premiership, where his coach at St Mirren has declared that everyone in the town of Paisley in St Mirren will be supporting the Socceroos in the World Cup as a result.
But I admit that my favourite player is Awer Mabil. Awer not only pulled an Aloisi for the Socceroos, kicking a winning penalty against Peru to qualify the Socceroos for the World Cup but he has been a genuine humanitarian, co-founding Barefoot to Boots, the Australian based NGO supporting refugees in camps like Kakuma in north-western Kenya, where Mabil and Thomas Deng's family sought refuge for years before coming to Australia. I was thrilled to see Barefoot to Boots work firsthand when I visited Kakuma in 2018 and made a delivery of football kits donated by the soccer clubs in my electorate in Melbourne's West. We should celebrate these young Australians for their extraordinary achievement, not just for making it to the pinnacle of their profession but for doing so while overcoming such enormous challenges.
African people's connections to Australia go back well over 200 years and they tell a remarkable story of tenacity in the face of hardship. Our continents and our peoples are connected, but Australia has not always engaged with African countries as deeply or as knowledgeably as we could. I'm trying to turn that around. For the next month, the one field that all Australians will be focused on will be the pitch that the Socceroos will be playing on in Qatar and the four African Australian Socceroos who will be doing us proud. Kuol, Mabil, Deng, Baccus will be representing more than just the Socceroos in Qatar; together, they represent modern Australia for all the world to see. (Time expired)