A nine-year-old Australian boy has taken centre-stage at a major sporting event, days after a video of him in distress at being bullied captured hearts across the world.
Quaden Bayles, who is himself Aboriginal, led out an indigenous Rugby League team in an exhibition match in Queensland against New Zealand Maoris.
Quaden’s mother said he had always dreamt of being a Rugby League star.
She posted the clip of him crying after he was targeted at school for dwarfism.
Celebrities offered their support, and hundreds of thousands of dollars have since been raised as part of a campaign to send him to Disneyland.
‘Best day of his life’
The National Rugby League’s Indigenous All Stars team invited Quaden to lead out the side for their match against the Maori All Stars on Saturday on the Gold Coast.
Fullback Rabbitoh Latrell Mitchell made the invitation in a video.
“We’ve got your back and just want to make sure that you are doing alright… we want you around, we want you to lead us out on the weekend,” he said.
Holding the hand of team captain Joel Thompson, Quaden led them out on to the pitch accompanied by roars from the crowd.
He then posed with the teams holding the match ball, before handing it to the referee.
The Maori All Stars won the game 30-16.
Mother Yarraka Bayles said at a news conference on Friday that Quaden was “going from the worst day of his life to the best day of his life”.
Days earlier, she had posted the video of Quaden, which has been viewed millions of times.
“This is what bullying does,” she says in the video, in which her son says he wants to end his life.
Celebrities including actor Hugh Jackman and basketball player Enes Kanter spoke out, while parents in other countries shared video messages from their children.
Ms Bayles said she hoped her son’s experience was raising awareness over the effects of bullying.
“We are losing way too many people because of bullying, because of discrimination, because of racism. There’s so many factors of bullying,” she said.
“On top of that, being an Aboriginal boy with a disability, people don’t understand that’s a double-edged sword. There’s racism and then there’s discrimination because of the disability.”
What happens in the video of Quaden?
In the six-minute video, posted on Tuesday, Quaden’s mother describes the relentless bullying experienced by her son every day. The family, who are Aboriginal Australian, live in Queensland.
“I’ve just picked my son up from school, witnessed a bullying episode, rang the principal, and I want people to know – parents, educators, teachers – this is the effect that bullying has,” Ms Bayle says as her son sobs.
“Every single… day, something happens. Another episode, another bullying, another taunt, another name-calling.
“Can you please educate your children, your families, your friends?”
If you or someone you know needs support for issues around this story, in Australia you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. In the UK these organisations may be able to help.