Prize fighter

Rahullah Sarwari is the Star Journal''s Person of the Year. 189065_04 Picture: CAM LUCADOU-WELLS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

There’s plenty of fight in Dandenong’s world-class kickboxer Rahullah Sarwari.

The 17-year-old Afghan-born fighter has withstood notable challenges in his life with admirable determination.

He is a worthy role-model and recipient of the Journal’s Person of the Year 2018.

As recently featured in Star News, Rahullah had been denied from representing Australia in Kung Fu world titles due to a citizenship row.

Despite his best efforts and fistfuls of national medals, the permanent visa-holder was not granted citizenship prior to the 2017 championships.

So he reinvented his martial-arts career and took up kick-boxing.

Amazingly, on the back of just four prior fights, Rahullah placed third in his age division at WAKO kickboxing world titles in Venice, Italy in September.

He says his first opponent was difficult – a daunting, strong and speedy Russian who was quick to seize on Rahullah’s weaknesses.

But he adjusted quickly, progressing his way to the semi-finals.

Prior to departure for the titles, there were still citizenship dramas. He’d only received visa clearance the day before he flew out from Australia.

The trip’s $5000 cost was also a scramble. But with the help of Dandenong High schoolmates and staff – and a crowdfunding campaign – the costs were covered.

The way it all came together was “like a movie”, he said.

The support made him all the more determined to do his best at the title fights.

“With all the hard stuff I’ve been through – I couldn’t step back and be scared.”

Aside from sport, Rahullah completed his Year 12 in 2018 – despite arriving in Australia three years earlier with little English and disrupted schooling.

For much of his childhood, he, his mother and siblings survived terrorist threats while sheltering in a safe-house in Quetta, Pakistan.

For six years, they rarely went out while they waited for permission to join his father who had arrived by boat in Australia.

During that time Rahullah took up martial arts to “stand up for myself”.

“Because my father was not there, it was hard to stand up for myself.

“I had a few fights. And I went to training to learn to defend myself.”

This year, Rahullah hopes to qualify as a citizen when he turns 18 – and put those issues behind him.

He hopes future refugee sports stars won’t hit the same hurdles.

“This is our country too,” he says.

“We should be just allowed to go for it. They should be happy for us.”


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