Rugby League’s Multicultural Integration Program, run by former players Hazem El Masri and Steve Meredith for more than 300 newly arrived migrant students, has received national recognition, winning the Commercial ‘Big Business’ Award for 2012 at the National Multicultural Marketing Awards.

The Integration Program run in partnership with NSW Rugby League pipped the Commonwealth Bank for the award which was presented in Sydney last week.

The award is given to a business in Australia which includes any form of commercial activity such as buying, selling, training, organising or consulting that relates to a culturally diverse market. 

The event was run by the Community Relations Commission of NSW and hosted by the Minister for Citizenship and Communities, Mr Victor Dominello MP.

The 2012 Integration Program engaged 300 students from intensive English Centre’s (IECs) and schools in Sydney’s south-west with a high proportion of immigrant children in a six-week program involving activities in the classroom and on the football field.

The program was designed to use Rugby League and its profile to promote health messages and physical activity amongst culturally and linguistically diverse youth and the wider community.

“This was the first time Rugby League was used to assist in the positive integration of newly-arrived migrants, humanitarian entrants and refugees,” NRL General Manager Community, Culture & Diversity Trish Crews said.

“The success of the pilot programs has enabled the NRL to secure a secondary Federal Government grant from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship which assists us in continuing our work with the culturally and linguistically diverse youth and the wider community.”

“Off the back of being awarded the International ‘Beyond Sport Awards’ for our work with the Indigenous community to have our Multicultural programs recognised is a great honour and reaffirms the game’s core value of inclusiveness.”

Meredith and El Masri used the values of Rugby League to smooth the path for young immigrants into regular schools and the broader community by working with stars of the game from traditionally non-English speaking backgrounds and elite players from New Zealand, Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, Italian and Philippine backgrounds as role models.

While the classroom dealt with setting goals and developing a positive sense of self and planning for life, on the field students were taught the fundamental skills needed to participate in a modified non-contact form of Rugby League called ‘League Tag’ which teaches them team work and effective communication.

At the end of the six-week course all students were brought together to play in the NRL Harmony Gala Day to showcase their newly-learned skills.
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“This was a great initiative which used the profile and standing of one of Australia’s top team sports to help young people find their place in our society,” said the Chair of the Community Relations Commission of NSW, Mr Stepan Kerkyasharian.

“When we launched these awards in 1990 we hoped to inspire people to look around and see what role they could play in developing the potential and the benefits of cultural diversity... starting with public servants and moving on into business, export, technology and the community.

“The NRL has stepped up to the mark to make a significant contribution and I congratulate them.”