Past Australian Socceroos Star and currently playing for PSM Makassar, Bruce Djite joins us to share his experiences in Indonesia and thoughts on the importance of sport in the Australia-Indonesia relationship.
Tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get into playing Soccer?
I was born in the United States, my father was born in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and my mother in Togo. At the age of 3, my family (parents and 2 brothers) moved to Sydney, Australia. I completed all my schooling in Sydney (preschool – year 12). After high school I attended Macquarie University for 6 months before being offered a soccer scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. I spent about 9 months at the AIS before signing my first professional soccer contract in 2007 with Adelaide United. Since then I have played in Turkey, China, South Korea and currently Indonesia. I have also played for Australian National teams including, Young Socceroos (U’20), Olympic team (U’23) and the Socceroos.
I initially got into playing Soccer during a family trip to the Ivory Coast in 1993. Once we returned to Australia I was quick to register with my local amateur soccer club and just enjoyed playing the game. By the time I was 8 I knew soccer was all I wanted to do.
Tell us a little bit about your thoughts on Indonesia? What do you enjoy the most / least about working and living in Indonesia?
Indonesia is a fascinating country! It is the 6th country in which I have lived, and it is very different from any other country I have even visited (I have been to over 35 countries). I have never experienced such a diverse country, living in relative harmony. It has vast resources, a huge population, diverse economy and great potential. They are football fanatics which results in an amazing atmosphere at every game.
The best thing about Indonesia is how warm the people are, the conveniences of living here ‘think GO-Jek and Grab’ and how crazy they are about football. The greatest negatives for me is the real lack of transport infrastructure which makes travelling to games and even within cities a bit of a nightmare.
How is playing soccer in Indonesia different to playing in Australia and or other countries?
Playing here has some similarities with every other country I have played, I guess that comes with experience. The fans as I mentioned earlier are fantastic and most games are played in sold out stadiums, this is similar to Turkey but very different to South Korea where crowd numbers were dismal. Indonesia however is relatively disorganised in many aspects; no information is reliable and very few things are predictable. Australia, Korea, Turkey and China were all the opposite, in that everything was well organised and set in stone at the start of the season.
What does sports diplomacy mean to you?
Sports Diplomacy, especially soccer being the “World Game” is one of the best tools of soft power that Australia possesses. In my view this significant attribute is under-utilised, especially with our nearest neighbours in Asia and the Pacific. Sports Diplomacy brings people together, sport transcends linguistic, sociocultural and all other differences. Sports diplomacy is a great tool to increase dialogue and cultural understanding between states and is a terrific strategy to facilitate the establishment of long-term relationships, consensus and understanding. Sports diplomacy can also be used as a tool to raise funding for aid projects as well as increase the standard of education.
What role do you think sport can play in the Australia-Indonesia relationship?
I think at present sport plays a limited role in the Australia-Indonesia relationship and I believe more could be done on this level. Soccer is by far the most popular sport in Indonesia and it resonates with everyone in the country, from President Jokowi Widodo to Indonesian diplomats to the everyday citizen. I believe sport is one of Australia’s greatest attributes. Whether it be the abundance of sporting talent Australia produces considering our relatively small population, as well as our training techniques, sporting successes and the governance structures within our sporting codes/organisations. Certainly, the sporting successes of Australia is the envy of our neighbours and I think we could and should use that intellectual property to help improve Indonesia’s standing in sport. This would bring them international recognition and acclaim either through future Olympic medals or improved competitiveness on the global stage. I must also stress, the benefits in this approach are not only limited to elite level of sport or the track or field. There are enormous economic, educational and other benefits to be derived from a strong sporting industry both at elite and grassroots level, especially in a country the size of Indonesia with a population of over 250 million people.
If you could give young people any life/career advice, what would it be?
Follow your passion and accept all challenges, especially the ones where your first thought is, “I’m not ready for this”. It is through the process of failure, dusting yourself off, getting up again and having another go that you will become successful in whatever it is you choose to do.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us Bruce!