ABDULMALIK ALMSATER had barely heard about football 12 months ago before he took part in a program run by the Port Adelaide Football Club.
Born in Libya, the now 17-year-old took part in the Power Intercultural Program as a year 10 student in 2020, learning about cultural diversity, inclusion and social cohesion through the semester-long education program at his school, Pinnacle College at Elizabeth East.
Given he freely admits football was not on his radar at the time, it is perhaps quite remarkable that he is now an umpire in the SANFL juniors.
Abdulmalik was also on hand as this year’s edition of the Power Intercultural Program came to a close with a carnival at Karen Rolton Oval in the Adelaide CBD on Friday.
“I completed the (Power Intercultural Program) course and came to participate as a player at the gala day carnival last year,” the impressive teenager told portadelaidefc.com.au in between umpiring games.
“I didn’t know any of the rules, I didn’t know any of the (AFL) players so I came here and learned the rules and participated on the day.
“I hadn’t played it before except for learning it through school and this program.
The eldest child in a family of five, Abdulmalik settled in Adelaide after leaving Libya with his family in 2011 when his father got an opportunity to study in Australia.
Getting involved in the most Australian of pastimes seemed a distant and unlikely goal, made possible by the program piquing his interest
On Friday he manned the whistle and controlled the play as a field umpire, keeping a watchful eye on several games throughout the day as about 400 students from 15 schools across the state battled off for school pride in a nine-a-side football tournament.
“I became an umpire through my teacher who was involved in SANFL juniors. He told me it’s a good job and a good way to keep fit,” Abdulmalik explained.
“He said you earn good money so I got involved.
“I did all the courses and since May I have been umpiring. I’ve done a total of eleven games now.
“It’s so exciting to be back at the carnival, though unfortunately not as a player with the rest of my school mates and classmates but it’s still really enjoyable to be here and find a way to participate.
“I just think it’s a great program and I’d love to come back every year!”
His biggest problem since donning the whistle came in Friday’s informal carnival, with schoolmates hoping for “too many free kicks” and preferential treatment.
Delivered to students in years 10 and 11 from schools across the state with large multicultural populations, PIP uses current and past Port Adelaide Football Club players and female role models to help students explore their own culture, Indigenous cultures and other cultures within their school community to develop an understanding of the differences and similarities.
The Power Intercultural Program has engaged more than 200 ethnic groups, and is integrated within the South Australian Certificate of Education, allowing students to receive credits for their work.
Among the tasks students complete is to design guernseys based on the cultural make-up of their school community. Each school selects one guernsey to wear at the program-ending carnival, making for a day full of colour and a celebration of the vibrancy of the many cultures that make up modern Australian society.
This artwork for this year's winning guernsey was designed by Underdale High School's Arianna Kasumovic and Riley Schroeder, featuring a striking image of a dove on the front and gecko on the back.
“Sport brings people together. It is about the way friends come together and have fun together,” Abdulmalik said with wisdom beyond his years.
“I’ve seen a lot of people from different backgrounds, all different cultures playing footy, encouraging each other and I find that really amazing.
“That’s what I find this day about. It’s been fun and enjoyable to umpire.”
It is a sentiment echoed by Port Adelaide defender Aliir Aliir, who was able to relate to many of the participants having been born in a Kenyan refugee camp from South Sudanese heritage.
He was a popular onlooker, posing for countless photos with students… and some teachers during the festivities.
“To see so many different cultures to come together and play the sport is awesome to see,” he said. “I love coming out and being part of it.”
“I’ve said it before that sport unites people – especially multicultural kids who don’t know English. All you’ve got to do is come together and play sport. It brings out pure happiness and that’s why I love playing sport.
“Some don’t know the rules but they love being out here and playing sport.”
Port Adelaide’s Multicultural Programs Manager Alipate Carlile described Aliir as a wonderful ambassador for the program and his community.
He said this week’s Power Intercultural Carnival was perfectly timed to coincide with Refugee Week.
“The carnival ties in with Refugee Week this week and the theme was “Unity”,” he explained. “And we’ve seen a great example of unity with the carnival this week.
“It gives us so much joy to see the kids take on the sport after the program and after the carnival has finished.
“They want to stay connected to the football club.
“(Abdulmalik) was involved a year ago and is now back here umpiring. For someone who didn’t know the sport before that, it’s an amazing pathway and something he should be really proud of.
“I know we’re proud of him.”
The carnival culminated with the grand finals on Saturday – umpired by Abdulmalik - being played as a curtain raiser at Adelaide Oval to Port Adelaide’s big clash with Sydney – co-incidentally featuring Aliir playing against his former side.
The results of the afternoon's matches would have brought a smile to Abdulmalik, with his classmates at Pinnacle College winning the female grand final, while the Australian Islamic College won the boys competition.
Students also participated in a cultural performance as part of a live Welcome to Country ceremony.
The Power Intercultural Program is a partnership between the Port Adelaide Football Club, the Commonwealth Government Department of Home Affairs, the South Australian Education Department, GFG and OTR.