Sport AFL The footballer central in the PM’s speech … to the UN

The footballer central in the PM’s speech … to the UN

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Aliir on a trademark dash from half-back. Photo: Getty
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The pointy end of the AFL and NRL seasons are here and most Australians are pretty excited – including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Speaking at the Leaders Summit on Refugees at a United Nations General Assembly in the United States, Mr Turnbull outlined Australia’s response to the world’s refugee problem.

The Prime Minister took just three-and-a-half minutes to turn to the AFL, though, highlighting the story of Sydney defender Aliir Aliir and how he had become a role model in “our multicultural nation”.

Speaking to a sparse crowd in New York, Mr Turnbull said: “We are indeed an immigration nation.

“And our immigrants are as diverse as the society that they have joined.

“One such story is Aliir Aliir, who grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya after his family fled the bloody civil war in Sudan.

“For Aliir, his family, and 150,000 other men, women, and children, Kakuma refugee camp was their home.

“The camp provided the bare necessities of meals and shelter, but sports equipment was unimaginable.

“Aliir and his friends would improvise with a balloon wrapped in strips of old clothing to serve as a football [soccer ball].”

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The PM did not have a massive audience for his speech. Photo: Getty

Mr Turnbull, who is a Sydney fan, said Aliir had quickly slotted into the Swans side and proved he was fit to play at the highest level.

The defender has played 12 AFL matches, all this season.

“He was seven when he and his family came to Australia,” he added.

“Tall, fast and agile, Aliir was a natural for Australian Rules football and once he took up the game hasn’t looked back.

“Earlier this year I was delighted when Aliir debuted for the AFL team I support, the Sydney Swans.

“Now 22, Aliir is one of the first Sudanese immigrants to play AFL and has become a role model in our multicultural nation, especially for young people in Sydney.”

How interested the crowd were in Mr Turnbull’s first speech to the United Nations General Assembly is up for debate, but this tweet suggested that some attendees had drifted off.

Aliir – who settled in Brisbane after arriving in Australia – moved to Western Australia and was drafted by Sydney from WAFL club East Fremantle in 2013.

The Swans took him at pick No.44 in the draft of that year, but the rebounding defender, who was the first player of Sudanese heritage drafted by an AFL club, had to wait until this year to make his debut.

That came in Round 6 against the Brisbane Lions, although a six-disposal effort saw him dropped.

Aliir returned in Round 13 and from Round 16 onwards, has not missed a game.

He really impressed in Sydney’s six-goal semi-final victory over Adelaide on Saturday, grabbing 21 disposals.

Aliir’s rapid improvement in 2016 saw him sign a two-year contract extension in May.

The 22-year-old, who is cousins with NBA player Thon Maker, will line up for Sydney in Friday night’s preliminary final against Geelong at the MCG.

The winner will meet either Greater Western Sydney or the Western Bulldogs in the 2016 AFL Grand Final, to be played next Saturday.

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