Celebrating different cultures through tennis

Thursday, 25 May 2023

People from more than a dozen different countries and cultures came together to play tennis on a recent autumn Saturday morning in Rotorua.

New Zealand and Australia were represented, so was Brazil, Chile, China, and El Salvador. 

Don’t forget France, or Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Norway.

There were also people from South Africa and Tanzania, Thailand, Philippines, Cook Islands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The ceiling beams inside the clubrooms at Rotorua Tennis Club were covered in flags and about 50 players were gathered, ready to hit the courts and have fun.

Sergeant Lehi Hohaia opened the event with a mihimihi and karakia and Sergeant Geoff Kaye-Ivitu – President of Rotorua Tennis Club – ran through the day’s proceedings.

“In my briefing I said that the main purpose of the day was to use tennis to bring us together as one (whānaungatanga), to celebrate our cultural differences,” Geoff said.

“The emphasis was not about who won what tennis matches, it was about coming together.”

The tournament was a collaboration between local police and the Rotorua Multicultural Council.

The idea came from Constable Weiwei Verran, who is an Ethnic Liaison Officer in Rotorua and a longtime member of Rotorua Tennis Club.

Weiwei said the multicultural tennis tournament was an opportunity to bring different ethnic communities together and for them to interact with the police, “as people from different countries have different experiences of dealing with the police in their own country”.

“I wanted them to know policing in New Zealand is not the same as their own country. New Zealand police are friendly, kind, and approachable. We are here to help,” she said.

Five local police officers played in the tennis tournament and Geoff was the tournament controller.

Yumiko Kawano from the Rotorua Multicultural Council said the organisation is always looking for ways to support the successful settlement of migrants in the community, “and to provide events where new friendships can be formed”.

“In many of the home countries of the migrants, the relationship between the public and the police is quite different from what we experience in New Zealand.”

She said the multicultural tennis tournament was an excellent showcase of the cultural diversity in Rotorua.

Rotorua Trust provided funding for the event and its representative Mike Keefe was there to show support on the day.

“The proliferation of cultures coming together is just gold. Rotorua manaaki at its best,” he said.

Geoff said the tournament “just oozed positivity”.

“A key message that the day brought to my mind was that even such a competitive sport as tennis can be used to bring communities together and have fun,” he said.

“To me, as a police officer, as the current President of the Rotorua Tennis Club, and as part Cook Islander myself, it was the wairua (spirit) of the whole day that was the greatest success.”

Weiwei said there are plans to make it an annual event.

“The feedback I received was all very positive. Everyone enjoyed the day, not only just playing tennis but also the different customs and values. Some of our club members said it was a great opportunity to learn about other people’s cultures and to understand them more, as well as enjoy playing with different people on court.”

Weiwei said it was important for the police to engage more with diverse groups and a sporting event such as this was a very positive way for both the police and different ethnic communities to interact and support each other. 

“This was the atmosphere I saw on the day,” Weiwei said.

“There were no barriers between the police and people from different ethnicities, everyone was having fun on court – they shared laughs, tennis skills, culture, and of course food.”

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