To experience "the real deal", head to a football match | ELPNZ

To experience "the real deal", head to a football match

10 November 2016

No, it’s not the FIFA World Cup, but it is a field of passionate, yelling, fit (and not so fit) football players competing for a cup. The New Zealand Ethnic Football Festival was held in Hamilton 1-2 October this year and is an annual highlight for refugee and migrant communities.

The festival is organised by the Hamilton Multicultural Services Trust.

Organiser Patricia Novoa says the weekend is a fantastic celebration of culture. “I just love watching them celebrating together. They’re with their own cultures and yelling at each other in their own language. Spectators sing and they bring their own food. If you want to really learn about culture, come to a festival. You get the real deal.”

English Language Partners Waikato is a partner agency for the festival. Most festival players have had some contact with the organisation at some point during their settlement in New Zealand.

The festival has been going for 15 years. This year, 450 players participated in 24 teams,  representing their home countries of Iraq, Serbia, Korea, Fiji, India, South Africa, New Zealand, England, Solomon Islands, Nepal, Cook Islands, Thailand and China. Some were there for the social interaction, some are more competitive.

This celebration of diversity is also about the spectators. “This year we had a team from Thailand,” says Patricia. “The supporters were amazing – they were so colourful. They even had cheerleaders, and they cooked Thai food which everybody was welcome to try. That kind of thing is definitely my cup of tea.”

Many teams train all year, but some have a practice or two before the big weekend. There are rowdy teams and well-behaved teams, depending on the flamboyancy of their cultures.

The skills level varies.  “The Colombians are very skilful and look like they are dancing with the ball. It’s so good to watch,” says Patricia.

Patricia says when young refugees and migrants arrive in New Zealand, they are unsure of how to fit in. There’s an assumption that they’ll be okay, but Patricia says these young people really need support early on. “Their whole life has changed and they need something they know – something to feel good about. Participating in the festival can be the beginning of positive settlement for them, and a way to keep them out of trouble."

The festival represents different cultures, religions and backgrounds – all with a passion for football, all proud to represent their country and their community, as well as interact with other cultures.

PHOTOS: Shield Winners 2016 - Bula Boys from Fiji (top); Patricia offering sustenance for players (right).

Winners of the 2016 New Zealand Ethnic Football Festival were:

Shield winners: Bula Boys (Fiji) 

Shield runners up: Serbia United (Serbia)

Plate winners: Cambodia Star (Cambodia)

Plate runners up: Waikato Dragons (China)

To register a team for 2017 email Patricia at or phone 07 853 0463.