Danny Abdallah, a lifelong Bulldogs supporter whose three children and niece were run down by a drunk driver, has told Canterbury players about the power of forgiveness on and off the field ahead of Monday’s inaugural I4Give Cup clash with Parramatta at Accor Stadium.
Abdallah, who founded the I4Give Foundation with his wife Leila after the 2020 tragedy at Oatlands, spoke to the Bulldogs players on Friday and explained how he had been able to forgive the man responsible for the deaths of Antony, 13, Angelina, 12 and eight-year-old Sienna.
The siblings and their cousin Veronique were walking to buy ice-creams when a ute, whose driver was sentenced to 28 years jail, mounted the kerb and struck them but Abdallah said it was important to forgive him for his other four children.
“On the night of the tragedy when Antony, Angelina and Sienna tragically died, we had to make a choice about how we can keep the rest of our kids together in the best possible way,” Abdallah said.
“The only road to that was through forgiveness, and by forgiving the driver. That attitude has helped us to move forward.
“My heart is always going to be heavy to the day I breathe my last breath but it has enabled me to help my kids become socially healthier and to dream again. They have goals and they love their sport.
“It has helped my wife and I to look forward and say life is still ahead of us. We are still young, we have got young kids and we need to set a good example for them.
“Even as athletes on the field you have to learn to forgive yourself if you make a mistake and the person next to you who makes a mistake so that you can focus fully on the game and not what happened.
“I never understood it before but now I know that it is good to let go and about the importance of forgiveness.”
The Bulldogs and Eels will play for the I4Give Cup after Abdallah approached Canterbury CEO Aaron Warburton and his Parramatta counterpart Jim Sarantinos at the urging of actor and comedian Rob Shehadie, who is also a former Lebanon international.
“I have always been a mad Doggies supporter and living in Parramatta my favourite game of the year is the Bulldogs and the Eels so Rob came up with the idea of the I4Give Cup,” Abdallah said.
“He said you should raise awareness and talk to the Doggies and Parramatta, to see if they want to do a game together in honour of the children in the Oatlands tragedy that had to happen.
“It is an opportunity to raise awareness and have a conversation about forgiveness.
“We live in a world now where we are quick to accuse and shame people and the whole forgiveness piece has been thrown out the window, especially through social media and especially with the expectations of kids.
“They don’t forgive themselves and the whole perception of what their life should be, if they don’t meet that they have an unforgiving heart. It is an important thing to discuss and to raise awareness about mental health and forgiveness, and the importance of it.”
Bulldogs captain Josh Jackson said hearing from Abdallah had helped put what happens on the field and in the game into perspective.
“It is a great honour for us to play for the inaugural I4Give Cup,” Jackson said. “I have had the chance to speak to Danny and it is an incredible story. It is obviously very tragic, but it is also just very inspirational for us as players.
“It’s incredible how he has approached the tragedy and it makes you realise that things in our lives aren’t really as hard as what you think they are.”
Eels captain Clint Gutherson said the players from both sides would be aiming to honour Abdallah and his family by performing to their best on Monday.
“For the family to be able to forgive and move on, and to be able to push this message, is incredible,” Gutherson said.
“To have something like the I4Give Cup just shows how much the game can help and I am honoured to lead the boys out in front of what should be a good crowd on Monday.”
Warburton, who has known Abdallah and his family for more than a decade, said the Bulldogs were honoured to help promote the I4Give Foundation and the message of forgiveness.
“Everyone resonates with tragedy in their own way but to have a correlation between tragedy and forgiveness is powerful and it is a bit outside the norm,” Warburton said.
“The power that Danny and his family have shown is just super-human. He is just a special man, with a special family, and he is one of us so to have the family there watching and presenting the I4Give Cup after the game is an honour and just the start.”