Football unites communities

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Southland United Football Club assistant coach Maico Lenhard, of Brazil, at the Southland Football grounds at Turnbull Thomson Park.

AN Invercargill football club is gearing up to welcome the Colombian refugees as they make the city their home.

Old Boys’ AFC committee member Gary Pilsworth said a shared passion for football was something club members had in common with the refugees.

“[Colombians] are football crazy,” he said.

“It will be a nice way to have something in common with them and build a relationship.”

The club was preparing to have the club’s registration information published in Spanish and run an open day to welcome the refugees and offer them the opportunity to join the club, he said.

Encouraging the refugees to join the club would be one way to help them feel part of the community and want to stay on in the region, he said.

Last season, five Argentinian families were registered with the club.

Mr Pilsworth said football development manager for Southland Ignacio Sande, from Uruguay, and the Argentinian families were Spanish speakers who could translate or interpret for the new Colombian families.

The refugees had been through “absolute hell”, so it was good New Zealand was taking them in, he said.

“It will give the city a different flavour. They are going to be a bonus to the city.”

Immigration New Zealand national manager refugee division Andrew Lockhart said the first group of Colombian refugees, about 15 refugees (three to four families), were expected to arrive in the city next month.

Over the course of each financial year, about six refugee groups would be resettled in the region, equating to about 90-100 individuals, most likely to be Colombian refugees, he said.

Maico Lenhard, of Brazil, coached the Old Boys’ AFC Stormers last season and is an assistant coach for the Southland United senior players this year.

Mr Lenhard said he moved to Southland with his wife in March last year, in part to escape the increasing violence in Brazil. They chose New Zealand because, according to Google, it was one of the best places in the world to live.

Joining the Old Boys’ AFC had helped to make them feel comfortable in their new country, he said.

“One of the things South Americans can do to engage with and contribute to their new community is through sharing their knowledge of football, which is South America’s main sport.”

Mr Lenhard said he and his wife had made the right decision to settle in the region.

“I am pretty happy and feel welcome in Invercargill.

“It is friendly and usually people help me with my English mistakes.”

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