Forging unity from diversity on Australia Day

On this Australia Day, the story of one Hyundai A-League player is worth celebrating.

On this Australia Day, the story of one Hyundai A-League player is worth celebrating.

I was in the crowd at Coopers Stadium in Adelaide last Sunday to see the Reds defeat the Wanderers.

Awer Mabil appeared as a substitute for the Reds. He's an 18-year old in his first season on a professional contract, but already you get the feeling he's one to watch for the future.

I don't profess to have the technical nous to pass judgment, but I know what I like in a footballer and there's lots to like about Awer.

For a start, he's a crowd-pleaser. He's quick and skilful. Despite his rookie status, he seems full of confidence and really enjoys his football.

The way he took on the experienced Wanderers defence with his flashy dribbling skills was a sight to behold.

A few weeks before the game I'd read a profile on Awer in the 'Adelaide Advertiser'. The story has stayed with me.

Born in Kenya, a life dislocated by war in South Sudan, a refugee who found a home in Adelaide. Football became his pathway to a better place.

There is much more to Awer's inspirational story, including the very selfless way he uses his football salary to help less fortunate family members in Africa.

If I sound like a unabashed fan of this kid, you're right. I don't reckon I'm alone.

On Australia Day, Awer's story reminds me what's great about our nation. We give people a fair go. We welcome them from all over the world. We celebrate their success. The Aussie spirit is a mosaic of cultures.

As the FFA CEO, I'm incredibly proud that football provides that pathway for so many Australians. It's not just about a professional career, in Awer's case. It's about the open arms of a football community that's diverse, inclusive and tolerant.

This afternoon at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, the Victory will once again showcase all that's good about football's role in Australian society.

The U-NITE celebration this year includes a curtain raiser between players of African and Asian heritage.

The Unite FC team, drawn from immigrant players from horn of Africa nations, is now a shining light in how sport can change lives.

The African-inspired team will play the Asian All Stars, a team drawn from several tournaments that give players from Melbourne's Asian communities a pathway.

Full credit to Melbourne Victory and Football Federation Victoria for the work that brings these programs to life.

Maybe another inspirational story like Awer Mabil's will emerge, but that's not really the mark of success. The fact that football is the common bond for so many Australians of different backgrounds is what matters most.

From our indigenous citizens, who stand as the first Australians, to the most recent refugee arrivals, and everyone in between, it's a day we should all be proud that our nation has forged unity from diversity. It's a day to be proud of being Australian.

Enjoy your Australia Day 2014.