April 19, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - Majak Daw will make history on Sunday when he steps out on the field, becoming the first Sudanese-born footballer to play in the Australian Football League (AFL).
- Majak Daw is the first Sudanese-born footballer to play in Australia’s professional league (HERALD SUN)
The former refugee, who fled Khartoum with his parents and eight brothers and sisters, will debut for North Melbourne against Brisbane in the Victorian state capital.
It’s a rare feel-good story out of Sudan, which usually hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Majak’s mother Elizabeth said the entire family would be at Etihad Stadium for the game, along with another 40 extended family and Sudanese community members.
The 22-year-old will also be cheered on by young Sudanese refugees from Melbourne’s gritty outer suburbs where Daw grew up and is already considered an inspiration.
“Coming from another country and having the experiences of what my family has gone through has shaped me. I’m very proud of my culture”, Daw said in an interview with the Herald Sun on Thursday.
“There are a lot of Sudanese community here in Melbourne. I think they look up to me and I take ownership to do the right thing”, he added.
Daw arrived in Australia in 2003 after the family spent three years in Egypt waiting for their visas to be processed. His family settled in the Wyndham Vale municipality, about 36km from inner-city Melbourne, and also home to a large number of newly-arrived Sudanese and first-generation immigrants from other Horn of Africa countries.
At the Wyndham Vale Football Club, Sudanese players made up half of the under-18 team last year.
Daw, who has been playing AFL since he was 14, was first inspired to take up the sport after a language tutor took him to watch a game.
Daw has been waiting three years and three games for his chance to start in the professional league.
His club announced his selection earlier this week via Twitter, using the tongue-in-cheek hashtag: “Majak Happens”.
However, Daw was making headlines even before his selection, becoming the first Sudanese Australian to be drafted to an AFL club after he was contracted to North Melbourne in 2009. His signing made news around the world, with his story aired on the BBC and Voice of America.
In an interview with BBC after his signing, Daw said he hoped his efforts would encourage other African migrants to integrate more into mainstream 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,” he said.
“I kept on telling them you need to get out and explore and know these people, because you’re going to be living here all your life - you’re not going to be with the Sudanese people the whole time”, he added.
Although Daw has been praised for his on-field brilliance, his progression to the national league was not without its challenges.
Early on, the rookie struggled to overcome his ungainly style, with coaches questioning whether he had what it takes to compete at the highest levels, while an off-field indiscretion last year, in which he lied about going partying while injured, led to a suspension.
The AFL is the most popular sporting league in Australia and currently consists of 18 teams spread over five states.
Also known as ‘Aussie rules’, the sport is renowned for its athleticism and high-energy physical contests.
Although Majak was born in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, his family are from the Dinka tribe, the largest ethnic group in South Sudan - which split from north Sudan in 2011.