Raj Chopra: Batting for Community
In founding an intercultural sports league, Raj Chopra has brought people from different backgrounds together to foster a strong Tasmanian community
Arriving in Tasmania from India with his wife, Suruchi Takhtar, and their two-year-old son, Raj Chopra is all-too-familiar with the overwhelming feeling that comes with starting a new life in an unfamiliar country. Today, he is Founder and President of the Intercultural Sports League (ICSL). Its sole purpose is to bring communities together and draw people out of isolation through participation in social sport.
“When we arrived in Hobart we were made to feel very welcome, but there was a gap in the community connectedness side of things. I had a job at Vodafone within a week and my wife began studying at university. We immediately found a fully furnished place to live and our landlord has been wonderful over the past five years. But not everyone is so fortunate or assimilates as quickly,” says Raj.
“When a part time position came up at the Multicultural Council of Tasmania it was my chance to make a difference. I knew that sport would be a great way to connect people.”
“Sport is a strong pillar of Australia’s national identity, and it is a way to break down barriers for migrants and new arrivals. It is also a way for locals to get to know those new to the country. A sense of belonging is important for any new migrant looking to stay.”
The ICSL encourages culturally diverse and migrant communities to come together through futsal, netball and cricket coaching clinics. Those who have never played sport before can join the coaching clinics and develop new skills to compete at tournament level.
But the benefits run deeper, including the physical benefits of improved fitness and reduction of chronic diseases as well as the mental benefits of reduced stress and improved self-esteem. Directing energy into sport has also been reported to assist those recovering from traumatic refugee experiences.
“We now have more than 600 members. There are teams from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Lebanon and Syria, and local Australian teams as well. It’s the first Nepalese team in Tasmania’s history! These participants have now created their own networks.”
Raj has witnessed friendships develop and confidence flourish. People from non-English speaking backgrounds have the opportunity to practice their English out on the field and cultural harmony is felt in the handshakes after hard-fought games.
The Australian Sports Commission’s latest AUSPLAY participation data (2015-16) shows 87 per cent of all Australians participate in sport or physical activity. However participation is much lower for culturally diverse or migrant communities at 52 per cent and for women in this group, it’s just 48 per cent. The ICSL is helping overcome some of the barriers to participation through culturally-suitable programs.
“When we launched our own league, six teams enrolled. We trained people as umpires, I went to Cricket Tasmania for support and we received help with team management and umpires.”
“Since then things have really grown. Recently we had 1 200 people attend a game in Glenorchy between the local Indian and Pakistani team. There was dancing, great food, trampolines, face painting and the Premier came to do the ‘toss’. There was halal meat and the teams stayed until 1am.”
The Hobart Hurricanes partnered with ICSL to create the Hurricanes Champions League and, in partnering with the Glenorchy Cricket Club, ICSL have managed to acquire their first outdoor cricket training net facility for the teams to practise.
For Raj, the ICSL has given him another reason to stay in Tasmania. Every week people travel from Launceston to play in teams and others come from as far away as Melbourne. The League gives new arrivals an opportunity to ‘play for and represent their country.’ Something they never thought they’d be able to do on Tasmanian turf.
Are you interested in making a move? Make it Tasmania.