When the NRL Grand Final rolled around this year, the name on everyone’s lips was 'Macklemore'. Don’t bother checking your Rugby League stats, you won’t find his name. Our man of the moment wouldn’t know a forward pass if it hit him square in the chest. Macklemore is in fact an American musician. His song ‘Same Love’ has become an anthem of hope for those campaigning for same sex equality. He sang it to an audience of millions from a stage in the middle of the field at half time during this year’s Grand Final. Former Prime Ministers railed against politics polluting sport (but were happy to collect their corporate freebies and attend). ‘No’ campaigners complained loudly that they felt betrayed and red neck radio shock jocks spat bile and contempt in protest. Rugby League, that most macho of sports, had chosen sides and stood up. The sport had chosen to use its voice to champion something it saw as the greater good. Meanwhile in America, NFL stars and basketballers have decided to stare down daily threats from the Trump White House by taking a knee during the national anthem to protest the institutional violence and racism that is part of everyday life for America’s minorities. Many Americans are finding their voice echoed through the actions of their sports men and women. It’s proof that sport is about more than scoreboards and trophies. It can and should be for the greater good.
Can sport lead the conversation on the great social issues of our time? What does it say about our communities that sport is now the forum through which we often discuss issues of race, gender and equality?
Do the values represented in how we play our sport reflect our priorities off field as well? How does big sport reconcile its financial co-dependence with big gambling and grog with its commitment to being a community leader? Beyond the bright lights of the big leagues what role does sport have to play in helping us build stronger, vibrant, healthy communities?
Author and journalist Peter FitzSimons will address this idea with his oration at this year’s Sports Writers Festival at The Seymour Centre on 3 November.
It promises to be a fascinating discussion about the harnessing the power of our national obsession for the greater good of all.
Francis Leach, Sports Writers Festival