THEY might be a small club, but they have big dreams.
For the Rohingya Football Club (RFC), their dream is to have their own national team and play in the World Cup one day.
While there are a few Rohingya-based football clubs in the country, the RFC was an initiative established in 2015 to develop a Rohingya national team.
The RFC, decked in green and white jerseys, have been playing against various local teams and participated in a local football league.
“Our aim is to play in the World Cup against other minorities. The purpose is to build the community. Being a refugee, they don’t have any hope, light or happiness,” said RFC chairman Muhammad Noor at a recent friendly match between RFC and Mayu FC at the Kampung Pandan Sports Complex, Kuala Lumpur.
They have even asked the Myanmar national team to play against them to foster friendship.
“We hope it will give some hope and motivation to the youngsters so they are not diverted into crime or other unhealthy activities,” said Muhammad Noor.
The team tries to play a friendly game or conduct training at least once a week. The team consists of 18 players aged between 18 and 30.
Most of the players do odd jobs and look at football as a way to cope with their stressful life.
During the friendly game against Mayu FC on a rainy day, RFC rallied back after conceding an early goal to win the game 4-1. A crowd of about 100 people, mostly from the Rohingya community, were on hand to watch the game.
RFC secretary Mohammed Farouk said they were in touch with The Confederation of Independent Football Association (ConIFA) for a chance to play in the tournament if it is organised in Asia in the future.
ConIFA represents nations, minorities, isolated dependencies or cultural regions.
Playing in such a tournament would be a good opportunity to tell the story of the Rohingyas, who are considered by the United Nations, one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
As of January, there are 56,135 Rohingya refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, however, unofficial estimates put the number at three times the figure.
Mohammed Farouk said they never had a chance to play in a regular football match featuring 22 players back home because of the persecution they faced.
“Due to the situation back home, people didn’t know that the Rohingya could play football. Now at least, we can show the world that we can play,” said Farouk who also plays for the team.
Farouk, who fled to Malaysia by boat in 2013, said that through their football matches against local teams, the locals have been able to engage with them.
“When we first started, we were scared but slowly we engaged with them and they now understand us better,” said Farouk, whose family is in a refugee camp in the town of Maungdaw, Myanmar, that borders Bangladesh.
RFC have received sponsorship of RM55,000 from the Australian Government through The Kick Project.
The programme entails providing the team with a kit, transport to friendly matches and establishing a sports and community hub where the Rohingya can access sporting equipment and coaching.
The founder of Kick Project, James Rose said the project was a means to develop the community who have been going through hardship.
He said the setting up of a sports club could be a good avenue for the community, particularly for children. They are also looking to get women and girls involved in the project.
“Sports is good for the mental well-being. We are basically establishing a template using this programme for what works and otherwise,” said Rose.