How trailblazing African footballers are changing the game in Sydney’s West

Rita Oppongboateng never had the chance to play football with other women until she took part in a tournament in Western Sydney.

She used to train boys in her home country but finally got to play with other women at the African Cup NSW.

The tournament, held in Blacktown, saw teams representing their countries of origin play off over nine weeks for the title.

The grand final, played at the home of A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday, saw Ghana win against South Sudan 6-5 in the men’s competition.

For the first time in the tournament’s history — a women’s grand final was also held, with Democratic Republic of Congo meeting Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe beat Congo 3-2 in the women’s Challenge Cup game.

Rita Oppongboateng dreams of becoming a professional footballer.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Rita played for Zimbabwe in the tournament.

She’s of Ghanaian heritage but a lack of numbers meant she wore a different country’s jersey.

“To be an African woman trying to play sport, it’s not something that’s been supported so you really want to make sure you pursue those dreams when the opportunity arises,” she said.

Her biggest dream was to make it as a professional football player and see more diversity in her sport.

“It would be amazing to see my fellow African women playing in the W-league. I’ve not seen much,” she said.

“For me, I’m aiming to be playing for Australia some day and also be playing for the Wanderers.

“That’s my goal.”

A man poses for a photo
Tournament ambassador Mohamed ‘Mo’ Adam is a current Western Sydney Wanderers players.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Tournament ambassador Mohamed ‘Mo’ Adam is of Sudanese heritage and plays for the Wanderers.

He said the cup was a good place to find rising football stars and elevate them to stardom.

“I feel like there’s a lot of passion amongst the African community for football, and a lot of talent to go with that as well, it’s really important it’s at the heart of Western Sydney.

“I feel the neglected part are the females though.”

Next year, Rita is hoping there are enough women to form a standalone Ghana team.

Men and women stand on a football pitch
Players from the African Cup NSW Tournament, representing Ghana, Cape Verde, Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Congo across the women’s and men’s leagues(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Chilandu Chiliaka, who played on the Congo team, has played two years in a row and said this year had seen massive strides taken already.

“Last year, we had one team and we actually had to find a non-African team to verse us,” she said.

“This year we have two teams and two games – still not as much as the boys – but definitely next year I’m sure we’ll get a few more teams formed.”

In this year’s tournament, there were 16 teams on the men’s side.

While player numbers have been slowly increasing, the one thing that’s been missing this year is the raucous crowds.

Tickets were limited to 70 guests per team amid the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A man poses
Lenox Tweneboa says the tournament highlights the diversity of Africa.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

“The most difficult part has been COVID, it hasn’t been easy for spectators, and the African Cup is made by our spectators so that’s been devastating,” Chilandu said.

“Regardless we still have people cheering us on.”

Lenox Tweneboa is an African football player but he’s always noted when reporters forget how culturally expansive that term really is.

“What’s really special about this tournament is that it highlights the diversity in such a continent as Africa and we can often have this monolithic idea that Africa is very uniform but it’s such a radically diverse continent,” he said.

Lenox is now retired but his professional career, which took him overseas to play in Myanmar and Singapore, began at the tournament 10 years ago.

Back then it was played out of a park in Merrylands.

He said the restrictions placed on the tournament this year meant a different atmosphere to years past.

“What made it special was the atmosphere, there’s always going to be drums, always going to be chanting,” he said.

“It just adds another dimension to the game to have that.”

Despite some setbacks, he said the passion of the players kept the tournament alive.

“That energy is always going to be part of the game, and this cup, always.”

Men and women play football
Crowds have been missing from this year’s tournament because of COVID.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

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Trail-blazing NT Aboriginal cabinet minister John Ah Kit farewelled at Darwin’s state funeral

John Ah Kit, also known as JAK, has been commemorated at a state funeral in Darwin.

First entering NT parliament in 1995, Mr Ah Kit became the Territory’s first Aboriginal cabinet minister when Labor came to power in 2001.

“Jak was a big man with a big vision of a better country, a better Territory,” said the master of ceremonies, ABC broadcaster Charlie King.

Mr Ah Kit was farewelled at a service at TIO stadium.(ABC News: Mike Donnelly)

The ABC is using Mr Ah Kit’s full name and image with permission from his family.

Tributes for ‘a real bloke’

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner, who once worked as Mr Ah Kit’s chief of staff, spoke of his authenticity.

Before entering politics, Mr Ah Kit served as director of the Northern Land Council for seven years.

WA senator Patrick Dodson told the crowd Mr Ah Kit worked during a difficult time for land rights.

“The Northern Territory Land Rights Act, the Commonwealth Act, was under threat … and then there was the promise of national land rights legislation to fight for,” Senator Dodson said.

“Both those causes had Jak shuttling backwards and forward to Canberra to lobby any federal politician he could buttonhole.

“Jak and his cohort were so notorious around the corridors of old parliament house that they became known as the flying wedge.”

Senator Dodson is talking to a large crowd. He is wearing a blue suit.
Senator Dodson said Mr Ah Kit worked during a difficult time for land rights.(ABC News: Mike Donnelly)

A long career of advocacy

Mr Ah Kit was fondly remembered for his long career of advocacy for Aboriginal people across the Territory.

“When he stepped into Territory politics, Jawoyn people were never far from his thoughts as he advocated for Aboriginal people from the Arnhem region,” said Lisa Mumbin from the Jawoyn Association.

Ms Mumbin remembered him playing a key part in the 1988 Barunga festival that saw prime minister Bob Hawke announce his support for a treaty.

“He taught us how to negotiate and how to stand up for our rights, and how to stand up for common causes through our humanity,” she said.

Jawoyn Association member Jack Ah Kit wearing a black hat in the Nitmiluk National Park.
In 1991, Mr Ah Kit was appointed director of the Katherine-based Jawoyn Association but several years later, politics beckoned.(ABC News: Lucy Marks)

Mr Ah Kit was also remembered as a passionate footy fan, and a die-hard supporter of the Darwin Buffaloes.

The Buffaloes team song played as the entrance song to the ceremony.

“He actually made me become a fan of Buffalo. So, I stand here today as a Buffalo supporter, alongside my brother, no matter what,” Ms Mumbin said.

‘I’ve lost my hero’

Mr Ah Kit’s children remembered their father as a loving family man, who they sorely missed.

“I will always be proud to be the son of John Ah Kit. Thank you, Dad for being there for us kids,” Jonathan Ah Kit said.

A huge crowd in front of a funeral service can be seen. Many people are wearing blue.
Mr Ah Kit’s family encouraged people attending the service to wear blue.(ABC News: Mike Donnelly)

Ngaree Ah Kit, the Member for Karama and Deputy Speaker of the NT Legislative Assembly, said a foundation would be set up in her father’s name.

“He understood very well that everybody is born with a father but not everybody becomes a dad, and so we had a lot of people come and stay with us for a little bit and they became family straight away,” she said.

“We will be establishing a legacy to our father and it will be called the John Ah Kit Foundation.”

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