“This is a beautiful story,” says Tharanga de Silva from the Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS). A group of young Sri Lankan asylum seekers awaiting visa approval and struggling to integrate with the wider Perth community formed their own cricket team – captained by a young man called Kapil Dev – and lifted the winner’s trophy in their first tournament.
“Every young Sri Lankan man knows how to play cricket and loves the game. If you go into the countryside you’ll see villagers playing cricket on the roads,” says Tharanga, ASeTTS Community Development Coordinator.
“The team’s captain, Kapil Dev, was named by his father after the great Indian cricket captain – so you could say cricket’s in his blood.”
“Kapil founded the team and obtained sponsorship from ASeTTS for their first year in competition as ASeTTS Cricket Club.”
It’s no secret that asylum seekers have a difficult time settling into a new country, and the young Sri Lankans hitting cricket balls on ovals around Perth had a few hoops to jump through, both on and off the field.
And, as a Sinhalese woman from Sri Lanka, Tharanga understands those challenges. Although the Sri Lanka civil war (a 26-year conflict born from ethnic tensions between Sinhalese and Tamils) ended in 2009, she had to build a level of trust with this group of young men.
“Most of them arrived by boat as asylum seekers, and, despite Perth having a well-established Tamil community, they weren’t welcomed in a particularly warm manner. The social structure of the Sri Lankan community is complex and many groups don’t mix well.”
“Local Tamil groups were invited to attend the weekend matches, but were reluctant. So some ASeTTS staff attended on Sundays to cheer on the team. The players have no family here, of course, so we filled that support role in many ways.”
“But when the team made the finals, cricket-loving Sri Lankans got right behind them. For the grand final, there was a crowd of supporters banging drums and making a lot of noise. And they won – it was a wonderful day!”
Buoyed by their success on the field, the team was able to source its own corporate sponsorship.
“The Commonwealth Bank funded some equipment and as the individual players obtained work, they were able to contribute their earnings towards maintaining the team. The players take their cricket quite seriously and look the part in their full cricket uniform. They were puzzled initially when their opponents showed up in T-shirts and shorts.”
“The young Aussies see the game as a social activity but for these Sri Lankan asylum seekers it means absolutely everything.”
“It can be difficult to give refugees and asylum seekers a feeling of hope. But for these young men, cricket has been a means to improve their wellbeing and foster important cross-cultural connections.”
“Most of them have obtained Temporary Protection Visas and are mixing more easily with the wider Australian community. Now their sporting endeavours are quite independent of ASeTTS. They’ve even travelled to Brisbane for a tournament.”