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Pocock and Goodes are the role models Australia needs

  • 05 November 2015

As a writer I was pleased that the All Blacks defeated the Wallabies in Saturday's Rugby World Cup final. Before the game the Australian team was described in the Australian press in terms so inflated that they made John of Gaunt's orotund encomium of 'this happy breed of men' look skeletal. This was warfare to equal Marathon, Waterloo, Gallipoli and the Battle of the Bulge. An Australian victory, and the whole English language might have gone pop.

But the Wallabies had their heroes whose running, passing and kicking styles and haircuts will surely be imitated by small boys in rugby-playing Australia. And no doubt they will come under scrutiny as role models. It is natural to assume that gifted sportsmen and women influence the behaviour and attitudes of children, and so to demand that they be good role models.

Most conversation about role models focuses not on what we should expect of them but on their failures. When players are found drunk, stoned, abusive to umpires, speeding in cars or harassing at parties, they are execrated as bad role models.

Good role models are defined by what they don't do. They are never in the media for the wrong reasons, offer no opinions on public issues, do not criticise the administration, the press or sponsors, are ferocious competitors who lose their identity in their commitment to the team. They are good corporate men.

Some sportsmen, however, confer on role models a much richer meaning. Adam Goodes and the rugby hero of the hour David Pocock (pictured), for example, refuse to separate sport from life. They attend closely to the ethical dimensions of the big issues of their day. They call out unethical behaviour when they meet it on the sporting field and make a strong critique of their society.

Goodes exposed racial prejudice and abuse among Australian Rules crowds, and Pocock homophobic language among rugby players and supporters.

Pocock in particular has made his views clear. He covered over sponsors' signs on his shoes, suspecting them to be made by exploited labour. He and his partner have declined to marry until the introduction of same-sex marriage overturns what he sees as discriminatory marriage laws.

With a small farmer he chained himself to a bulldozer to protest against coal mining at Maules Creek. With other prominent Australians like Bernie Fraser and Peter Doherty he signed an open letter demanding a moratorium on new coal mines and the export