Over the past few years, Canberra’s sportsmen and women have been prominent promoting causes and charities considered beneficial to the community.
You would have seen the Raiders, Brumbies and CBR Brave players offering support for young men in our community battling mental health issues with organisations like Menslink.
Or you might be aware of the role that Patty Mills plays as a leading voice in the ‘We Got You’ campaign against racism.
And there’s the Canberra Cavalry’s Night of Pride supporting Canberra’s LGBTQIA+ community.
Also significant are the concerted efforts by the UC Capitals, the Raiders and the Brumbies in acknowledging and paying respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
Or the RESPECT program led by the Gungahlin Eagles in calling out bad behaviour in sport, and the Canberra Netball and Dragon Boat communities have played a role in supporting women with breast cancer.
Many more examples highlight the role sportspeople play in our community by being positive influencers.
All this happens because we are all aware of the significant clout sportspeople have due to their sporting prowess.
Many are revered. They’re put on a pedestal with their every move watched and their every word listened to. Whether they want it or not, these sportspeople are role models and, as such, they possess considerable power to cut through and deliver meaningful messages.
When they use their power for the greater good, we applaud them – but there’s always a flipside when famous people are caught up in current events.
When world number one Novak Djokovic decided to walk away from a potential 10th Australian Open title rather than have a COVID vaccination, Australia made a high-profile martyr out of a man who didn’t follow the rules. It was an unfortunate consequence of poor management by pretty much everyone involved: the Federal Government, Tennis Australia and Team Djokovic (the man and his entourage).
Novak is not alone.
There has also been pushback by some in the NRL and AFL communities against being vaccinated. In some cases, there’s the possibility players will walk away from the sport rather than get the jab.
The response to this needs to be carefully considered, given the level of publicity unvaccinated sports stars can generate. Can we handle these issues better and earlier, rather than allowing them to spin out of control?
The hope, of course, is that the pro-vaccination message delivered by the majority of sports stars who are well aware of the influence they have in the broader community drowns out the likes of Novak Djokovic and a handful of NRL and AFL players.