The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace offers an annual opportunity to celebrate how everyday, sport has an important role to play in society.
In Oceania, no club reflects the values celebrated by IDSDP better than South Auckland’s Manukau United.
The clubs’s core values have aligned it as a device through which football can be used as a tool for community development.
Club chairman, Hone Fowler said the values are still being mapped, but for now the four outlined above are what the club uses and promotes as being central to its objectives.
Being a good host and acknowledging the mana of others through an expression of aroha and mutual respect, is one of the key values for the club, which aims to offer a welcoming, safe environment for anyone, regardless of background.
“Our diversity is our strength, we stand for being an inclusive organisation, open to all regardless of age, sex, religion or ethnicity,” Fowler described.
“It’s about acknowledging that we are diverse, and celebrating that difference. We are all one, at the same time, with a common passion and we are a community of communities.”
When Fowler speaks about community, he is referring to what makes Manukau United unique – the diverse South Auckland community it inhabits.
South Auckland is not a typical breeding ground for New Zealand’s footballing elite, but Fowler doesn’t believe that’s necessarily indicative of the talent lying in wait within the largely Maori and Pasifika community.
“Early on, maybe 10-12 years back at Manukau City, we tried really hard to fit the status quo, to fit the mould of clubs that New Zealand Football and Auckland Football Federation wanted us to be. However, we realised more and more that just didn’t work for us and our community in Mangere and South Auckland where our population is 80 per cent Maori and Pasifika and has a large proportion of new migrant or immigrant communities, who don’t necessarily speak English,” Fowler explained.
“So the one-size fits all approach didn’t really work for us and I guess there was a bit of frustration with that, but we looked inwardly and found within our own group of people our own expertise and skills and found ourselves building something that was for us and fit our community, built around our needs first.”
This approach has helped Manukau United become a “community-first” club, that puts local people at the forefront of what it does, and being a football club, second.
“It’s been evolving over time and is going to be a living project but we’ve really upheld that need to prioritise our local needs first and deliver for them first and foremost.”
By taking a meaningful approach to what they do, the club is able to encourage local people to lead, it provides the space and opportunity for that leadership and facilitates the sharing of vast knowledge and experience the diverse local community brings to the table.
While football has taken a ‘backseat’ to the community and its needs, being a competitive former football with several OFC Champions League campaigns under his belt has allowed Fowler to ensure football remains a key priority through a “two-pronged approach” to the development of the club.
“It means prioritising community development and the grassroots in a way that’s meaningful, and that engagement is meaningful, and at the same time, the second prong would be setting an example or aspirational goal from the grassroots at one end to the senior teams at the other end.
“We’ve been fortunate that our men’s team has quite rapidly excelled to where we are today, in the Northern League which is the highest league in the country. We’re yet to get there in the women’s space but ultimately we wanted to produce heroes and heroines so that young people in the area can see themselves as really good sportspeople, really good football people and to see that pathway ahead of them.”
As well as performance, what is important on the football front is that the club represents its diverse community at all times.
It engages with the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre offering a safe environment for entry into the sports community, it’s active in supporting cultural and religious events and activities driven by the local community. The club’s Muslim faction was the driving force behind a solidarity vigil in support of the wider Muslim community following the events in Christchurch on 15 March 2019, which was attended by close to 3000 people promoting peace and showing solidarity.
More recently, Manukau United helped facilitate the first New Zealand national tournament of Sepak Takraw, attracting teams from all around the country including many former refugee communities originally from the Karen State in Myanmar.
Since 2012 the club has had a sister-club agreement with Al-Ahli Sports Club, which is based in Nusseirat refugee camp in Gaza, Palestine, with fundraisers including an annual Football for Freedom event and a pre-loved boot drive.
Manukau United has recognised the needs of not only its local community, but a wider global community. As a club, it absolutely personifies what International Day of Sport for Development and Peace stands for.