To so many people, AFL is more than just a game.

For sixteen-year-old Crows Academy player Sung Ok, AFL football gave him an opportunity to embrace Australian culture and make friends.

Born in South Korea, Ok moved to Adelaide with his family at just five years of age and it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with the game.

It took a while to convince his mum it was safe for him to play, but at age 12, he played his first game for the Walkerville Football Club.

“Mum is now my biggest supporter,” Sung said.

“I really noticed her support about three years ago, when she started watching the football with me on TV.

“She knows a lot of the AFL players now and loves Eddie Betts.”

Like Ok, football has played an enormous role in the lives of fellow Academy players Thomas Byun and Foster Mesecke.

Mesecke, who was born to Taiwanese parents, was adopted as a baby and was raised in a family of avid football supporters.

Now 15 years old, he hasn’t stopped playing since Auskick.

When asked what he loved most about football, he said it was all about the people you meet along the way.

“Teammates; making those friendship bonds that will last forever,” he said.

One of those friendships has been with Thomas Byun.

Byun, who was born in South Korea, dreams of becoming an AFL player.

He moved to Adelaide with his family when he was three years old and was frequently asked by friends at school for him to join them and play football.

Byun’s mother was also hesitant to let him play and it wasn’t until he was 11 that she gave in.

“She used to not even come out to the games, because she thought I’d get injured,” he said.

“She came to one of my grand finals as one of her first games of football, and after that she’s like, this is so good, I love it.”

All three are now relishing the opportunity to train and play with the Crows Academy, but their football journeys have not been without their challenges.

Mesecke opened up about times he’s received racially inappropriate comments on the field.

“I heard coaches as well when I was playing club, you get used to it. You don’t accept it, but it happens often,” Mesecke said.

“Just because you’re from another background, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the game,” Foster said.

“The game is for anyone, and anyone that wants to play it.”

Ok, who has played in the AFL Diversity Championships twice, said that awareness was paramount to stamping these comments out.

“I think kids need to be more educated, that people come from other places and that they all have their different stories,” Ok said.

“They need to respect it.

“Especially on the field, I think that’s where a lot of people bond.”

Crows Academies Manager Jarrod Meers was proud that the program has unearthed these talented players from non-traditional AFL backgrounds.

“Their football development has been enormous, and they are so proud of the heritage. They bring so much enthusiasm to our Academies sessions and games,” Meers said.

“Without knowing, these boys may in fact finish up being pioneers for more young players of Asian heritage to pursue and play AFL.

“The unique inner sanctum experiences and insights we have been able to provide them has seen each player and their families developed a true love for the game.”

Korean Translation

AFL(오스트레일리안 풋볼 리그)은 많은 사람들에게 단순한 게임 이상의 의미를 갖습니다.

크로우즈 아카데미(Crows Academy)에서 선수 생활을 하고 있는 16세의 옥 성(Sung Ok)은 AFL에서 풋볼을 하면서 호주 문화에 적응하고 친구도 사귀었습니다.

한국에서 태어난 옥은 5살 무렵 가족과 함께 애들레이드로 이주했고, 얼마되지 않아 풋볼에 매료되었습니다.

초반에 옥은 엄마에게 풋볼이 안전한 운동이라고 설득하는데 애를 먹었습니다. 그러던 중 그는 12세 나이에 Walkerville Football Club(워커빌 풋볼 클럽) 소속으로 첫 경기에 출전했습니다.

옥은 “지금은 엄마가 저의 최고 열성 팬입니다”라고 말했습니다.

“3년전 엄마와 같이 TV에서 풋볼 경기를 시청하면서 엄마가 풋볼 팬이라는 것을 알게 됐죠.

“지금은 AFL 선수들을 꽤 많이 아시죠. 그중에서도 에디 베츠(Eddie Betts)를 가장 좋아하세요.”

같은 아카데미의 선수로 활동하는 토마스 변(Thomas Byun) 역시 옥의 경우처럼 AFL로 인해 삶에 커다란 변화가 생겼습니다.

한국에서 태어난 변은 어린시절부터 AFL 선수를 꿈꿔왔습니다.

그는 세 살 때 가족과 함께 애들레이드로 이주했습니다. 학교 친구들은 그에게 종종 풋볼을 같이 하자고 제의했습니다.

변의 엄마도 처음에는 아들이 풋볼하는 것을 탐탁지 않게 여겼고, 그가 11살이 되어서야 인정을 하게 되었습니다.

변은 “예전에 엄마는 제가 부상당할 것이라는 생각에 경기장을 오지 않으셨어요”라고 언급했습니다.

“그러다가 한번은 결승전에 오셨는데, 그 때 이후 좋아하셨어요. 좋은 계기였죠. 저도 너무 좋았어요”

이제 이 두 선수들은 Crows Academy에서 훈련과 경기 출전의 기회를 마음껏 누리고 있습니다. 하지만 그들의 풋볼 여정에는 어려움이 동반됩니다.

AFL Diversity Championships에 두 번의 출전했던 옥은 이런 문제들을 극복하기 위해서는 인식하는 것이 가장 중요하다고 말했습니다.

그는 이어, “어릴 때부터 많이 배워야 한다고 생각합니다. 사람들 모두가 다른 곳에서 왔기 때문에 저마다 독특한 생각을 갖고 있기 때문이죠”라고 피력했습니다.

“특히 경기장은 많은 사람들이 모이는 곳입니다.”

Crows Academies의 감독인 자로드 미어스(Jarrod Meers)는 본 프로그램을 통해 비AFL 출신의 재능 있는 선수들을 발굴할 수 있어 매우 고무적으로 생각합니다.

미어스는 “이 선수들의 풋볼 실력은 놀라울 정도로 향상되었으며, 선수들은 자신의 출신에 대해 자랑스러워합니다. 이 다양한 배경의 선수들로 인해 우리 아카데미 세션과 경기는 그 어느 때보다 열정적으로 변모하고 있습니다”라고 전했습니다.

“이 선수들은 앞으로 AFL에서 선수로서의 커리어를 추구하는 더 어린 아시아 출신 선수들에게 첫번째 좋은 본보기가 될 수 있을 것입니다.

“우리는 그 동안 선수들에게 고유한 내적 경험과 통찰력을 교육해왔습니다. 그 결과 선수 개개인과 그 가족들이 진정으로 이 풋볼 게임을 사랑하게 된 것 같습니다.”