Phoenix rising

As a thank you to the community, Wellington Phoenix Football Club is giving refugees and economically disadvantaged new migrants free season passes to the team’s games.

Take a flattish piece of ground, a ball of any description, jerseys or backpacks for goal posts, a half-dozen or so players – age, gender, and ability don’t matter that much – and you’ve got yourself a game of football.

The recipe applies worldwide, which may help to account for football being the world’s most popular team sport and, at a professional level, one of the most cosmopolitan.

In Wellington, the Wellington Phoenix Football Club team includes players from Australia, Britain, Poland and Fiji – and the team’s fan base is just as varied.

Sport is a universal language and a way for newcomers to make connections and form new friendships.

But not every fan – or potential fan – can afford the expense of tickets to the club’s games or the cost of transport.

So for the second year running, Phoenix FC is offering recently settled refugees and newcomers who face financial constraints free season passes and public transport to the games.

The Football Diversity and Inclusion Programme recognises the role sport can play in building bridges between individuals and across communities. It is, says Club General Manager David Dome, a way for the club to give something back to the communities and councils that have supported it.

The renewal of the programme was announced at the club’s community day in September and formally launched in Wellington’s Civic Square in October, shortly before the start of the season.

In 2017, around 800 people were given season tickets, and a further 100 or so people will be added to the programme this year with Oranga Tamariki–Ministry for Children having signed up, Rakesh Naidoo of the Human Rights Commission told the Wellington launch.

The benefits extend to the immediate families of the season-pass holders, who are also able to attend the games for free.

“It means that families can spend a day together at a sporting event without it becoming a financial burden,” said Rakesh.

A mark of the programme’s success is the wide support it enjoys.

Alongside Wellington Phoenix FC’s General Manager David Dome, officiating at the launch were Mayor of Wellington City Justin Lester, Mayor of Porirua City Mike Tana, and Hutt City Councillor Glenda Barratt.

David Dome praised Rakesh. “He spearheaded the programme and led the conversations. It wouldn’t have happened without him.”

Mayor Mike Tana has been a particular supporter of the programme, often driving a minivan filled with young people from Porirua to the Phoenix games.

“You’ll never find a more committed mayor,” said Rakesh.

Rakesh also acknowledged the help of a range of other organisations in making the programme possible.

“Actually giving away free things is not too difficult, but making sure you have the coordination in place to reach the right people is a challenge.”

The Football Diversity and Inclusion Programme is a collaboration between Wellington Phoenix FC, the Human Rights Commission, Red Cross, Changemakers Refugee Forum, Multicultural NZ and local Multicultural Councils, Volunteer Wellington, Oranga Tamariki and the region’s city councils.

Rakesh Naidoo of the Human Rights Commission speaks at the community day.