Socceroo Mabil named Young Australian of the Year

Buoyed by receiving the Young Australian of the Year award, Socceroos winger Awer Mabil hopes he can bring greater awareness to the plight of refugees as he looks to rediscover his love for football at new club Sparta Prague.

The 27-year-old was recognised in the Australian of the Year honours for the work of his foundation – Barefoot to Boots – which provides sports footwear and medical equipment for the South Sudanese refugee camp in Kenya where he was born.

Mabil has endured a lot to reach the levels of success he has. After fleeing Sudan with his family, Mabil grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp, before arriving in Australia at ten years old. Receiving the award carried extra significance for Mabil, coming four years to the day since he lost his sister in a tragic car accident in 2019.

“I think she’d say, ‘Hey little bro, you’ve done alright’,” said Mabil. 

“It’s a mixed day (for the family) but her energy is always with us and I’ll continue to carry her name.”

He said the most touching moment of his charitable work had come when his foundation donated two incubators to the local hospital.

“That for me is the biggest achievement because you’re giving life, I don’t know how many lives have been saved,” he said.

“I’m representing kids in the refugee camp that don’t get a chance.

“The title of ‘refugee’ is just a name because, as I’ve said before, as long as we’re born into this world, it’s all our home.

“It (the refugee camp) taught me the value of sticking together and working hard.

“If we can all just help each other one by one, this world will be a better place for all of us.”

It is the second time an Australian soccer star has received the award, with Matilda’s captain Sam Kerr taking out the honour in 2018. Football Australia CEO James Johnson acknowledged the imp[otance of the achievement at the Awards Ceremony in Canberra.

“On behalf of Football Australia and the Australian football family, I want to congratulate Awer on being named the 2023 Young Australian of the Year,” said Johnson.

“Awer’s contribution to Australian football as an immensely talented and popular member of the Subway Socceroos, and to society at large through his charity work, is a testament to the person and role model that he is.

“To have two members of our current senior national football teams in Awer and previously Sam, with their proud diverse backgrounds, being bestowed with such honours, is a reflection of the sport’s impact on Australian society today.

“Football is played by almost two million people across Australia and is more multicultural than any other sport. Awer’s story is a demonstration of how football represents modern-day Australia like no other sport and its inherent power to enrich lives and drive positive change within communities.”

Mabil’s mother and uncle accepted the award on his behalf, while he is currently in Czechia, playing for Sparta Prague, where the Socceroos star admitted it ‘was an honour just to be nominated.’

“To be honest, it hasn’t sunk in yet,” Mabil said at his Prague club in vision shared by Football Australia.

“For me it was an honour just to be nominated. Two months ago I was also nominated for the South Australian Young Australian of the Year. For me that was a big moment. To win that was one of the biggest moments in my life.

“To be able to be named Young Australian of the Year gives me power to continue doing what I’m doing. For me, I love to help people. I’m really motivated to build on from this.”

“My mum and my uncle went to Canberra … It was quite cool, when they called me (saying): ‘we just met the Prime Minister!”

“Yesterday I Face Timed them and talked to some people there. Actually, I talked to Craig Foster, we had some nice words to each other. That was pretty cool, to talk to somebody who’s a former Socceroo and also doing amazing, great stuff for our beautiful country. For me, that was nice.”

Only finding out about his win just before training – Mabil admitted it was hard to concentrate and stay focused.

“I woke up and I tried to keep my phone on silent. Just before I went out to training that’s when I found out I had won it! So I quickly turned off my phone and went to training before I got distracted,” he laughed. “But during training I was obviously distracted, thinking how big this is for my family and also for our footballing community.”

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