Burmese refugees make trip across Cook Strait for football World Cup

Burmese refugees from Nelson travelled to the Myanmar versus New Zealand Fifa U-20 World Cup game at Wellington Regional ...
Anna Bradley-Smith

Burmese refugees from Nelson travelled to the Myanmar versus New Zealand Fifa U-20 World Cup game at Wellington Regional Stadium on Friday

They came, they saw, and although their team may not have won, they definitely conquered the stands of the Wellington Regional Stadium.

Yesterday 53 Burmese refugees travelled over land and sea to get from Nelson to Wellington to watch their home country Myanmar take on their adopted country New Zealand in the final group A match of the Fifa U-20 World Cup.

And although Myanmar went down 5-1 in the Junior All Whites' first ever victory at World Cup level, the fans were louder and more colourful than their New Zealand counterparts, and they stayed until the very end, even high fiving the Kiwi players. 

Nelson College student Mal Sawn Cinzah shows off an autograph he got at the game
Anna Bradley-Smith

Nelson College student Mal Sawn Cinzah shows off an autograph he got at the game

With Myanmar stickers stuck to his cheek, a national scarf around his neck and far a huskier voice than when he set sail, Nelson College student Van Bawi Vanuk said the trip had been fell worth it.

"I found the game amazing, it was the first time I've been to something like it.

"Myanmar scored first and we were winning so that was good but with the first New Zealand goal we started to chill a bit and then with the second goal the emotions started to go down.

"But it was still really fun and I'm proud of them."

For some of the refugees the overnight trip to Wellington was the first time they had left Nelson since coming to New Zealand, and although the Cook Strait's southerly-swells were enough to have most reaching for a paper bag, the all-day journey north was full of chanting, laughter and, of course, football talk.

Burmese refugees from Nelson and Porirua at the Myanmar versus New Zealand Fifa U-20 World Cup game on Friday
Anna Bradley-Smith

Burmese refugees from Nelson and Porirua at the Myanmar versus New Zealand Fifa U-20 World Cup game on Friday

It was even discovered one expedition member, who was travelling alongside his son and grandson, could have enough skill to be subbing on for Myanmar, having played for the Burmese national team for a decade in the 1960s.

Sport Tasman was behind the initiative to bring the community to Wellington for the game, and with the backing of Fifa, Nelson's Red Cross Refugee Services, the Interislander, the region's two councils, Nelson Bays Football and Nelson Coachlines the organisations were able to put the trip on for free.

The Interislander almost had to go so far as delaying the ferry by half an hour to make sure the group made it on board.

Sport Tasman chief executive Nigel Muir said without all the organisations working together, most of the community would have missed out on seeing the game live, and the trip had been fantastic for everyone involved.

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"What an amazing journey it's been. It's been a real treat to be a part of something special.

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"The appreciation of the Myanmar refugees, the whole adventure and then it culminating in a really exciting game with lots of goals - when Myanmar went up at the start - these guys have all been buzzing, it's been fabulous."

He said the trip had highlighted a "really special side of sport" showing its power to bring together different communities and different sectors within those communities.

"This is just the start of learning more about our refugee community in Nelson and what they need to be integrated into the community and how organisations like Sport Tasman can help."

Burmese communities from around the North Island joined the Nelson group in the stands, and between all the colour and noise one ever would have guessed their team was down by four goals when the full time whistle blew.

Although no-one said they were unhappy New Zealand walked away victorious, with their new country now one step closer to the final 16.

 - Stuff

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