SYDNEY— An Iraqi refugee has been chosen to help boost the profile of cricket in Australia. Sam Almaliki, who’s 24, has been appointed to a senior community development role at Cricket Australia, the sports powerful governing body. He first encountered cricket watching fellow refugees play at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Center where his family was held for eight months after fleeing Iraq.
Cricket is Australia’s national game but lacks the diversity found in the other major sports, including rugby football.
The job of widening cricket’s appeal has fallen to an Iraqi refugee from Basra. Sam Almaliki says he knew nothing about the sport until he was eight years old.
“My first exposure to cricket was while being detained in the Villawood Detention Center as my family and I were seeking asylum, and I saw Tamil detainees playing the game,” he said.
Unlike other sports in Australia, cricket has not mirrored the nation’s multicultural make-up. About 40 percent of Australians were either born overseas or have at least one migrant parent.
Large numbers of new settlers from India and China could eventually change the face of the national cricket team.
"It is going to start to become a really multicultural team, whereas as before it was, you know, mostly Australian, but now that we have multiculturalism in Australia then the team is going to start looking that way as well,” says Dev, 13, who come from an Indian background and is very familiar with the game.
Sam Almaliki says his new job is to encourage more players from immigrant families to take up the sport of cricket, which is popular in former British colonies.
“We know that there are many migrant kids playing the game who are not part of our formal structures, and one of my top priorities is to ensure that we connect with those communities, and give a clear indication that there is a pathway for them and an opportunity to be included in the Australian cricket family and perhaps one day represent our nation. I think that can only be to the betterment of Australian cricket,” he said.
Australian cricket is trying to shed its reputation for being a sport for predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon players, but still has some way to go, according to Shaoquett Moselmane, the first Muslim member of the New South Wales state parliament.
“It is truly multicultural Australia with over 200 groups in Australia, so it is a really a success story of multiculturalism, which we haven’t been able to export and let the world know that we are a truly harmonious community, and that has not [been] reflected in some of our sporting games, such as Cricket Australia,” said Moselmane.
Iqbal, whose son plays at the junior level, migrated to Australia from Bangladesh, and hopes more aspiring cricketers from Asian families will play for the national team.
“Ah, why not? If I think for my boy, he will be able to play for Australia in four years. He is not 15, so 19, 20, yeah, you will see players playing from sub-continent countries and hopefully somebody from Bangladesh playing in the Australian team,” said Iqbal.
Cricket’s governing body says lucrative TV deals will give it the financial muscle to attract more players from non-English-speaking backgrounds, as well as larger numbers of women and girls, people with disabilities and indigenous Australians to the nation’s favorite game.