How Hakeem Al-Araibi’s triumphant return to Australia demonstrates the beauty of soccer

It was a story that garnered international headlines. A story that gripped people across the globe, bringing them together in a show of solidarity. In a way, it even made us realise just how precious life can be.

Hakeem Al-Araibi’s story of perseverance, determination and ultimately his freedom was perhaps the most endearing, yet controversial stories of the year thus far.

From the months he spent in the Thai detention centre to his eventual release thanks to the support of millions, it was a roller coaster of emotions that ended on a huge high.

But it was a great way to show one thing.

Soccer is a great way of bringing people together.

Whether it be soccer fans from different clubs, nations or continents. Or players, former players and coaching staff members from different clubs. When we all acknowledge something significant is or has occurred, we all come together in a show of strength for our great sport.

And Hakeem’s case was no different.

From Australian soccer icon Craig Foster to Champions League winning and Ivorian legend Didier Drogba, people came together in a bid to free Hakeem, who was being unjustly stripped of his rights and freedom.


It’s advocation like this that was able to shine a light on an issue that some parties wanted to keep in the dark. An issue they hoped they could solve (in their eyes) with little to no media fanfare.

How wrong they were.

Now playing back at his beloved Pascoe Vale FC in the Victorian State League top division, Hakeem is living a life that he knows was so close to being brought to a screeching halt.

He is now able to share his experiences with others as a Community and Human Rights Advocate with the FFV. Through his insight and knowledge, he will be able to help those who may be in similar situations to him (refugees living in Australia).

His story will also inspire others to help those in need. It goes to show that if everyone can show a little bit of support for someone or a group of people in need, those in power will take notice.

And for those who go above and beyond in their show of support, they get out what they put in. This is no truer than in the case of Craig Foster.

As soon as the story began, he devoted everything to ensuring Hakeem got released. Nothing else mattered more during that time. He took a stand and said that he and Australia would not rest until Hakeem was granted his release.

Now, Foster has received calls to be awarded for his bravery and hard work with the Australian of the Year award. Granted, he may not win, but he sure deserves to be recognised in some form.

What he did was nothing short of exemplary and again, it goes to show that soccer is a great way of bringing people together when someone or something is in need.

And that is the beauty of our wonderful sport.

Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

Why one state premier’s mindset must be replicated across the board

Peter Malinauskas Labor Government

On Tuesday, before the Matildas took part in the heartbreaking loss to England in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, we had already seen the enormous support across all sporting codes.

From record viewing numbers, to cross-code collaboration allowing Melbourne Cricket Ground patrons the chance to watch the Matildas before a Carlton and Melbourne AFL match, this is the momentum that will help shape the future of football in Australia.

Until now, football has been well behind in available funding, despite being an extremely high participated sport in Australia.

One state that has already taken swift action to build on a tournament that has seen the first men’s or women’s Australian side to reach the World Cup semi-finals is the Peter Malinauskas Labor Government in South Australia.

In a sign of what needs to eventuate for the game to grow in Australia, they have committed $28 million to dedicated female sporting facilities.

The Government is set to deliver $18 million for grant programs over the next three years that will improve female sporting facilities and participation.

In addition, $10 million of the money will be quarantined for soccer, as Football South Australia will chip in to match the grants dollar for dollar through funding sources that involve clubs, Football Australia, Local and Federal Government.

From South Australia alone, girl’s and women’s participation is predicted to increase by 33 per cent over the next three years, which is influenced by how well the Matildas performed.

Funding and investment will be of even more importance going forward, as clubs will be inundated with requests to start playing – as evidenced by Adelaide Comets who shared how their inbox started picking up rapid enquiries.

Following the conclusion of the tournament, this is the precise reminder of why investment is key, to compete with nations such as England who have their well-renowned training facility at St. George’s Park.

Ultimately, Football Australia will have their part to play as all states in Australia seek to capitalise on this golden opportunity.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson has now seen the men’s and women’s national teams do exceptionally well – now is the time to act.

“We warmly welcome the South Australian’s funding commitment – an important investment that underlines the need for collaboration between government and sport in order to address football’s urgent grassroots facility needs,” he said via media release.

“Following the feats of the Subway Socceroos at the FIFA Men’s World Cup, Football Australia has enjoyed a 10% rise in national participation.

“With the historic performances of the CommBank Matildas at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, we anticipate up to an additional 20% leap.

“However, as we grow, so does the pressing need to bridge our facilities gap – a challenge highlighted by our trajectory, which, if not addressed, will compromise the health of our community, and limit positive life experiences for women and girls.

“Our commitment to gender parity and inclusivity remains unwavering. Yet, we cannot overlook the infrastructure challenges our community clubs grapple with daily.

“This is why the South Australian Government’s funding commitment is pivotal. Together with our government partners, and armed with compelling national facility audit insights, we can make smarter, more impactful investments in community football, ensuring a brighter, more inclusive community for every aspiring footballer.”

We are now in a defining chapter of Australian football. If all state and federal governments and councils can get on the same page, we will be in a far better position than we have seen previously.

Will the Matildas change the perception of Australian football forever?

Matildas vs France Women's World Cup

The Matildas’ date with destiny is fast approaching.

They play England on Wednesday, in a semi-final match up of a FIFA World Cup on our home shores.

It is Australian football’s biggest ever match, with a Matildas team that is widely adored.

If they are to go on and win the tournament, it will be one of Australian sports biggest achievements – but there is still a way to go yet.

There’s no doubt about it, the Matildas are a box office hit.

A sign brought to their Round of 16 match against Denmark by a young Australian girl in the crowd just about sums up their popularity. The sign in the stands read “I gave up Taylor Swift tickets for the Matildas”. The team have transcended sport and all metrics are through the roof.

The quarter-final clash against France drew an average of 4.17 million viewers on the Seven Network, making it one of the biggest TV events in the past two decades in Australia. This figure doesn’t include the Optus Sport viewing numbers, which will also add on quite a substantial amount.

The upcoming match against England is set to be one of the biggest TV viewing events in Australian history. It should surpass all previous events – except Cathy Freeman’s victory race in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Alongside this, Matildas’ shirts have easily outsold Socceroo’s shirts and attendances at Women’s World Cup matches continue to break record after record.

It’s a real feel-good moment for Australian football, but what also must be accounted for is what comes next.

Once the Women’s World Cup tournament finishes on the August 20 – whether the Matildas are in the final or not – perceptions must be changed at a grassroots level around the country for the sport.

All those young girls and boys watching the Matildas games in the stadium or on TV need as many opportunities as possible to play the sport they are currently invested in through the World Cup.

Whilst funding grants such as the newly built Home of the Matildas in Victoria is important for the professional side of the game, a recent announcement by Football Queensland focused on the necessity to give youngsters more opportunities to further engage in the world game.

Football Queensland announced they were awarded the lease at a new $35 million community sports complex at Nudgee.

A deal was struck between the governing body and the Brisbane City Council – with the aim of the facility to be a northern hub for community football programs.

Speaking to media, Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner stated football is experiencing an incredible take-up, particularly among women and girls, and the new headquarters will help meet demand for additional playing fields.

“Brisbane is the fastest growing capital city in Australia and it’s important that we continue to deliver the facilities our residents need to stay active and play their favourite sports,” he said.

“The incredible efforts of our Matildas and the huge crowds during the Women’s World Cup show this facility is being delivered right in time to meet the booming participation in football by women and girls.

“After attending the World Cup and watching my son play each weekend, I’m proud our Council team is playing a role in helping Football Queensland grow the game in Brisbane with this great new sport and recreation facility on the north side.”

Football Queensland CEO Robert Cavallucci explained the Nudgee facility would build vital capacity for the game as Brisbane’s and the state’s largest participation sport continues its rapid growth.

“Today’s announcement will help meet the existing pressures and demands of the 40,000 strong club-based participants in Brisbane LGA and further support the delivery of community, development, and female football programs to the more than 35,000 social players in Brisbane as part of a Metro North Football hub,” he said.

“Enabling infrastructure projects like this are key to delivering opportunities for the thousands of boys and girls who are being turned away by local clubs every season due to a lack of infrastructure to service the current demands of our ever growing game.

“I’d like to commend Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner and recognise the great work of the Brisbane City Council for acknowledging this and delivering such a critical boost to the community. Football Queensland will create more places for the local community to play football and deliver more programs to improve the football experience for participants of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

“The success of the biggest ever FIFA Women’s World Cup currently happening in our own backyard is a reflection that Brisbane is a football city, with a huge appetite for the beautiful game.

“With the CommBank Matildas inspiring a new generation of young male and female footballers, infrastructure like this facility will ensure we can serve the next generation by meeting the infrastructure needs of today.”

Infrastructure projects and agreements with councils such as this need to become commonplace after the end of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The game needs further investment and it has shown throughout this event it deserves it.

Participation numbers will continue to grow, especially amongst young girls – so more facilities will need to be utilised.

The Matildas have shown what Australian football can be at its best. For the next generation, it is vital for the game to influence and change decision maker perceptions at a local level.

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