NRL embraces Harmony Day
Wests Tigers centre Kevin Naiqama says rugby league is a strong platform to promote Harmony Day with sport a common interest among a wide range of nationalities worldwide.
The 28-year-old was a special guest in Sydney's west as part of the NRL's celebration of the fifth Harmony Festival, an annual event for school children that recognises and raises awareness of the cultural diversity within the game and in society.
The Fijian native returns to his home country as often as possible and is proud of how far the code has developed in spreading the message of equality amongst cultures.
"Growing up there weren't a whole heaps of cultures in the game but now there is a strong mix especially with Polynesian boys, and it's probably one of the few sports in the world that provide that [opportunity]," Naiqama told NRL.com on Tuesday.
"It's great to see everyone coming together in regards to rugby league as a sport and bringing different ethnics and backgrounds to celebrate each other.
"The aim is to give the kids a sense of belonging and encourage them that rugby league is open to anyone who wants to give it a go.
"Obviously with the team it's based on teamwork and not anything else, so it encourages the kids to work hard together and for each other to get the job done.
"All the kids are having fun and it's a great day to be apart of."
Retired former teammate Dene Halatau was also present at the event as part of his new role in promoting cultural leadership within rugby league and said watching the game on the sidelines for the first month of the Telstra Premiership was something he was still adjusting to.
"It's [retirement] been interesting… it is a challenge," Halatau told NRL.com.
"I prepared myself for life after footy knowing I had to pay the bills and support my family but there has been a sense of loss.
"I always aware there would be a change emotionally and it was certainly the case, as soon as the hooter went I thought 'wow it's actually over'.
"But I am lucky working in welfare and education that I've got good resources around me particularly with Andrew Ryan, Nigel Vagana and David Solomona that have all been through it to help me out here and there with advice."
Halatau has seen the competition change dramatically in culture since he first started his career in 2003 and said the education programs within the game are pivotal to children and young adults in the future.
"We've brought together all the schools that took part in the 'In League In Harmony' program and our community team has been great in rolling that out to selective schools and getting the kids involved in leadership and personal development using rugby league as our primary vehicle," he said.
"Our main message is about inclusiveness and making sure that everyone feels welcome and made apart of the program, and I think the league does that really well.
"There's no doubt that the game is multicultural and I've seen that develop over the years… when I first started my career you were looking at under 10 per cent [of players from a different background] and now it's around 40-50 per cent."
Australian Jillaroo Sam Bremner said Harmony Day added an element of perspective nationwide with the predominant focus on supporting one and other regardless of race or religion.
"You go and turn on the news and it's about all terrorism and crisis, wars are happening between cultures and beliefs, and then I had a little kid come up to me today and say how awesome it is that no matter what colour you are or ability you have, that he's allowed to play this game," Bremner told NRL.com.
"Sometimes you forget about people having that mentality in the world because of the negative things that go on.
"There is that real sense of belonging for them no matter where you come from or what your beliefs are.
"There's young girls really getting involved and letting their hair down which is just awesome to be apart of.
"This day wasn't around back when I was at school but if it was, you'd see me around here every year."