Brumbies season-opener captain David Pocock talks rugby, protest and privilege. By Richard Cooke.


Paying a debt: David Pocock, 26, rugby player

To me, sport is at its best when it’s encouraging conversation. Around racism, sexism, homophobia – actually engaging the community. Because rightly or wrongly, sport has such an esteemed place in Australian society. It’s such a good way to actually get people talking. You look at the effect that Adam Goodes has had with his stance against racism in the AFL. You look to the US and a lot of the great work that’s been done challenging homophobia in sport. That whole thing that sports isn’t political just isn’t true, if you look through the history of sports and struggle across the world.

I benefit hugely from society, being able to get paid to play a sport. And I really think that sportspeople have to be giving back to society, whether that’s being involved in community initiatives or promoting health, or whatever it might be. And I know as a kid, I idolised
a number of rugby players and watched everything they did. I feel like if I can get young kids in Australia who may look up to me talking and thinking about these issues, then that’s a good thing. 

Collectively, we face a future of a changing climate, and what I did [protesting] at Maules Creek, I did first and foremost as a human. I didn’t go there as a rugby player. I really went there to do something that I personally felt I had to do. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to sit next to Rick Laird for 10 or 12 hours and show my support. [Pocock and farmer Laird chained themselves to machinery to protest against the mine. 

For most white people, the political system has worked very well for them. There are obviously exceptions, but largely white middle-class Australians, Labor or Liberal, have been fairly well off. It’s only when you start to look at the marginalised communities or groups in our society that you see a far greater awareness of the effect politics has on their lives. 

I’m obviously hugely grateful to live in Australia. But I still think that we can be so much more inclusive.

Like anyone who’s moved to a totally foreign country it was a huge culture shock. Just trying to get used to the way things worked, the accent, the differences in culture. Particularly at school – Zimbabwean schools were still using the cane. I guess the whole approach to education was very different. Comparing my experiences as a white Zimbabwean and the barriers, or lack of barriers, to fitting in … When I compare that with a friend of mine here in Canberra who’s a black Zimbabwean, from pretty much the same grade – all the extra obstacles he had to face just because he was black … It makes you a bit sad.

Most of the people you hear saying that Australians aren’t racist are white middle-aged men. For my friend here in Canberra, the thing that really got him down was that to his white friends so much of it was really casual racism. But if you’re the only black kid in your grade, it starts to wear you down after a while. There’s always opportunities for us to look at ourselves and challenge those things that we grow up with.

Being a professional athlete has to be a fairly selfish pursuit. I mean you have to be so focused on what you want to achieve and your training and getting all those little things right. I really don’t judge athletes who just want to focus on what they want to focus on, whatever that might be, their goals. For me, personally, a lot of these things have come up because of relationships I’ve had with people, that have actually made me really try to understand their experience.

I certainly would not consider myself religious. I guess the idea of being religious was very foreign to me when we first moved. But I do think that there is a huge amount to learn from the life of Jesus. How you can jump on one or two things – gay marriage, abortion – and say that’s what Jesus cared about, it seems pretty hard to fathom to me.

I realised when I was young I was never going to be the most talented player on the field – but I could certainly be the bloke who worked the hardest. My dad’s mantra, what he used to tell me and my brothers, was that you reap what you sow, you get out what you put in.

This week’s highlights…

• Cricket: ICC World Cup 

England v Australia

Today, 2.30pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground

India v Pakistan

Tomorrow, 2.30pm AEDT, Adelaide Oval

• Cycling: National Para-cycling Series

Round 1, Alongside Oceania Road Championship

Today, Toowoomba, Queensland

• Surfing: Australian Open 

Finishes tomorrow; Manly Beach, Sydney

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 14, 2015 as "Paying his debt".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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