Former Socceroo | Broadcaster | Adjunct Professor | Author | Human Rights Activist
'Sporting Citizens' and Humanity FC
Thursday 25th February, 2021
Today marks the release of an important Climate Council report into the effects of Climate Change on Australian Sport that includes specific measures for sport to immediately adopt in order to reduce our considerable emission footprint.
As important, though, is for sport to make a principled decision to speak out for urgent climate action and a just transition to the renewable economy.
Not a few brave athletes, like David Pocock, former netballer, Amy Steel and Matilda, Aivi Luik highlighted in the report but all of us, as an industry. A very powerful one which can propel social change.
Why should we, you ask? Good question, and a familiar one to which the answer is obvious. Because sport is populated by humans.
Sport is not immune from the broader impacts of climate change including more frequent extreme weather events, drought and bushfires, torrential rain events and of course higher temperatures which we have already seen adversely affect summer sport in particular, including the Australian Open tennis, A-League and W-League and Big Bash and Test cricket in highly publicised examples. In fact, the report states that unless we all take collective action, summer temperatures in Sydney and Melbourne on the Eastern seaboard could reach as high as 50 degrees by 2040.
Sport is now being asked not only whether and how it will adapt, through a commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy to power infrastructure and events, more sustainable waste management, different methods of travel not dependent on fossil fuels and crucially a prohibition on fossil fuel sponsorships, but also what it will say.
Today’s report outlines a myriad of paths forward to sustainability but sport needs to decide whether we are going to raise our collective voice for urgent climate action.
Aside from the immense positive dimensions of Australia committing to participate in the coming global energy transition to renewables to underpin our future economic prosperity for generations to come, the so far tortured path to this transition needs credible, committed and courageous voices and sport’s social license places it, and its practitioners, in an important position as advocates.
Increasingly, global issues that affect us all are forcing every part of civil society, including much of the business community who might otherwise demur, to speak up and sport must accept our responsibility to join the now-clamour.
To those who like to pretend that sport is apolitical or to digest their sporting diet sans social justice commentary or activism, I say how fortunate you are to be in a position where your wellbeing, opportunities and even survival are not dependent on others in society taking action.
But there are many who are relying on us to do so and sport has a social megaphone that is critically important for the future of just societies everywhere.
A liveable planet in its entirety is an obvious requirement of a just world, particularly for those most affected like our Pacific neighbours, for example.
Should we really be playing sport with Pacific Islanders and against Pacific Island Nations, all the while refusing to speak out on their behalf for the contribution our country must make as fellow global citizens to the rising seas threatening their survival? Or should our cricketers be helping their colleagues in Bangladesh, with whom they share the field, and who face extreme flooding and human dislocation on an unprecedented scale?
What about our Matildas and Socceroos who play against every nation in the world, ostensibly? What is our obligation to help humanity itself be more just, humane and sustainable when many of our competitors on the field are, like us, at the forefront of climate change impacts?
Sport is an international community of shared humanity, and this is precisely what climate action is about. The intersection between sport and social issues, particularly existential and pertaining to shared human rights is so clear that sport’s responsibility to stand up and make a contribution should no longer be in question. The only issue is how we do so most effectively.
The report outlines a number of organisations committed to helping sport not just do more, but say more, and I encourage every Federation, club and athlete to use your platform and leverage in the public domain to assist the transition we must make as a country.
We will protect our treasured biodiversity and natural environment that sustains human life as we know it, be healthier and I hope a major, global force in renewable energy and these issues deeply and directly affect us all.
Perhaps a change in language would be helpful.
Instead of referring to participants as ‘athletes’ or ‘sportspeople’ as though that is their only dimension and we are removed from human realities beyond the stadium wall, let us call them ‘sporting citizens’.
We live in the same communities, under the same laws, regulations and alongside others equally if not more affected by human rights issues faced by our society. We are citizens and humans first, athletes second.
Sport is a valuable part of civil society in which we are all interconnected, not a phenomenon that is immune from the heavy lifting to shape the world our children will inherit.
It’s time to cross the unspoken threshold between sport and society. The world can no longer wait for sport to feel comfortable in speaking out when its duty is to do so despite the risks. The stakes are just too high.
After all, the most important team of all is Humanity FC.
Australia Day, 2021
On Australia Day, 2021, let’s commit to the glorious dream of a reconciled Australia and find a date where we can all celebrate together
January 26, 2021
I am an Australia Day Ambassador, today become a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) and support a change in date for our National celebration.
It would be ideal for all Australians to celebrate Australia Day together but for our First Peoples, January 26 is a Day of Mourning which signifies the beginning of dispossession, frontier violence & destruction of culture. Therefore, let us acknowledge the truth of Australia’s history and resolve to find a date for our National celebration that brings us all together.
There are 5 reasons why I support the day, not the date, and am giving my time as an Ambassador once again this year to participate in the conversation: Citizenship ceremonies and welcoming new Australians; the opportunity to understand history and promote our Indigenous culture and reconciliation; to amplify foundational principles such as democracy and rule of law to ensure young Australians know how fragile these concepts are; to have important conversations on the national level; and in support of the National awards system, particularly at local level.
I support those Councils, sports, organisations and individuals who feel they, too, can no longer support the date in good conscience including the brave decision by Cricket Australia last week to participate in the national discussion.
Importantly, cricket listened to their National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cricket Advisory Committee, giving credence to the group and demonstrating a respect for our First Peoples that we’ve too often lacked as a nation.
I would welcome more of this from my own game of football. It should be perfectly natural for us, given our multicultural nature and global outlook.
As we move along the continuum towards true recognition, truth-telling and reconciliation we will have many difficult conversations but they will be less so if we simply acknowledge the right of Indigenous Australia to self-determination.
Sport reaches a broad audience and it is wonderful to see greater social responsibility from the influential institution of sport such as the powerful stance taken by the NRL’s Indigenous All Stars who refused to sing an anthem that demonstrably does not acknowledge their history and culture. I would do the same in their shoes.
In recent years, I have marched in the Redfern Invasion Day Rally and acknowledge that the anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet signifies great pain, dispossession, and inter-generational harm for our First Peoples that we are yet to properly reconcile.
It is almost thirty years since the Mabo case in 1992 punctured the historical, legal fiction and injustice of terra nullius and it’s high time we adapted all public institutions and celebrations to this reality.
I stand with Indigenous Australians because I am not committed to the date, but to the glorious dream that so many of us share of an inclusive, reconciled Australia.