A Sudanese teenager has made history by becoming the first African-born player to join the professional ranks of the Australian Rules Football League. Eighteen-year-old Majak Daw has excelled at a sport he took up just a few years ago and been signed by one of the country's best-known clubs, North Melbourne.
When he was nine, Majak Daw and his family fled civil war in Sudan. After three years in Egypt, they arrived in Australia in 2003 and settled in a Melbourne suburb.
The lanky teenager began playing Australian Rules Football just four years ago but has made history by becoming the first player from Africa to join the professional league, the AFL.
This week he signed a two-year contract with the North Melbourne club. He starts in the reserves, learning the intricacies of this unique Australian game, which fuses elements of sports such as soccer and rugby.
Daw hopes his efforts will encourage other African migrants to integrate more into Australian society
"When I first started a lot of my Sudanese friends, the boys, they weren't a fan of me playing footy, they tend to hang around the Sudanese people, just one area," Daw explained. "I kept on telling them you need to get out and explore and know these people 'cause you're going to be living here all your life, you're not going to be with the Sudanese people the whole time. Me making it into AFL will make them, will give them more opportunities and give them confidence to sort of go out there and do their own things to better themselves."
Daw experienced racist taunts on his journey to the elite ranks of the AFL, but he says they only hardened his resolve. He says the Sudanese have often struggled to adapt to life in Australia.
A spokesman for North Melbourne said the teenager, who is 194 centimeters tall and is still growing, had "enormous potential" to succeed at the highest level of the Australian Rules Football League, a nationwide organization with 16 professional teams. The majority are based in the southern state of Victoria, with other clubs in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and Perth.
In the past decade about 25,000 Sudanese refugees have resettled in Australia. The number of arrivals has slowed as the government has shifted its focus to accommodating those displaced by instability elsewhere, such as Iraq.
Canberra resettles about 13,000 refugees every year under official humanitarian programs.