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Lebanese community unites behind Cedars ahead of historic clash

19 November 2018 7:50 AM
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After spending 18 years in the cross-faith Lebanese military, Wehbe moved to Sydney in 2008, joining a community that is among the oldest and most continuous migrant groups in Australia. The Lebanese began arriving in Australia during the 1880s, some 60 years before Lebanon was an independent country. Before Redfern had the Rabbitohs, the local Maronite church had already celebrated its 10th birthday.

But the passage of time didn't deliver unity. The Australian Lebanese community has stayed fiercely divided along sectarian and political lines back home.

When Wehbe arrived in Australia, he quickly embarked on another peacekeeping mission, taking it upon himself to set up the establish the Australian Lebanese Football Association. The Lebanese community had been the last of the major Mediterranean migrant groups to form its own football organisation.

Since its establishment, in 2013, The ALFA has organised annual multicultural tournaments, set up community teams and run training sessions in Sydney and Melbourne for players from the Lebanese diaspora. The ALFA regularly sends teams and players back to Lebanon and operates without interference from religious or political groups. For Wehbe, it has an advocacy purpose as well.

"We hope that we can highlight all the talents that we have among the Australian Lebanese players," Wehbe said. "Hopefully we can reflect the good image of the Australian Lebanese community."

Despite its short existence, ALFA has already celebrated a landmark moment. On Sunday night at Condell Park, it hosted the Lebanon national football team at a reception ahead of their first ever game on Australian soil, against the Socceroos on Tuesday night.

Hundreds of people from all five major religious groups in Lebanon (Shia, Sunni, Maronite, Orthodox and Druze) welcomed their national team, knowing little about the players they lined up to take photos with but plenty about what they represent - the first Lebanese team to have successfully qualified for the Asian Cup, to be held in the UAE in 2019.

The unifying power of their triumph didn't go by unnoticed by Federal Labor MP Tony Burke. He told the crowd wasn’t optimistic about the Cedars' chances against Australia on Tuesday night, but insisted “there’s a whole room of people here who have already won.”

The sentiment wasn't on lost on Buddy Farah. A former Australian youth team captain and now a player agent, Farah played 20 senior internationals for the country of his parents' birth.

Source: brisbanetimes.com.au

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