TIC TALK Podcasts

Exploring personal experiences of inclusion

TIC TALK 4: Paul Oliver

A podcast with Paul Oliver
June 2013
Paul Oliver

Paul Oliver

Former Manager: Play by the Rules

Paul Oliver is the former Manager of Play by the Rules – a national initiative that promotes safe, fair and inclusive sport. He is also former Communications Manager for the Human Rights Commission and completed a PhD on the power of sport in local communities – a perfect guest for a TIC TALK, particularly as he loves his sport too!

 

 

 

Transcript TIC TALK with Paul Oliver

Peter:

Today’s Tic Talks, I’m with Paul Oliver, who’s manager of Play by the Rules. Hi, Paul.

Paul:

Hey, Pete, how are you?

Peter:

I’m good. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Paul for a couple of years now on Play by the Rules. Maybe we’ll start, Paul, by just explaining what Play by the Rules is for our listeners.

Paul:

Play by the Rules. Is it a program? Is it an initiative? Is it a website? Play by the Rules started off as a website about 10 years ago. And it’s predominately about sharing information around safe, fair, and inclusive sport. So it has tools and resources for coaches, officials, parents, spectators, that sort of thing, on various issues in sport. And the issues might be team selection issues. It might be abusive coaches. It might be abusive parents to players. And it might be the harder stuff, as well, around discrimination, harassment issues in sport, and also child protection issues in sports.

It tries to cover that full gamut around safety, fairness, and inclusion in sport. Which is, in the time that I’ve been in there, two years, it’s really grown in consciousness. It used to be sort of seen as important but less practically important with sports. And now it seems to be growing as integrity culture. Inclusion issues have grown to be the top couple of issues in sport at the moment.

Yeah. It’s a great website. That’s the center or the core of Play by the Rules. I ran that, is campaigns, so radio and TV ads to promote these issues to the general public. And a lot of partnerships, working in with other programs to try to get the message out, as well.

Peter:

Well, we’ll certainly go back to Play by the Rules, but we’re sitting here in the Australian Human Rights Commission office in central Sydney. And you were the Communications Manager here for quite some time. Three years?

Paul:

Yeah, four years.

Peter:

Four years here. So I’d like to focus a little bit on communication around these issues. Issues are often hidden until some disaster happens and then they come to the public fore. So what are some tactics or strategies? Or what is the communiqué regularly and often about regular human rights issues? Not necessarily the big publicity things we hear about when something happens. But the day-to-day stuff is an ongoing education, isn’t it? And communications are for that.

Paul:

Yeah it is. And that was the role as communication and education. And for my role in the commission, it was predominantly Human Rights.

But having this broad background, I can see the beauty of sport as a channel to provide a lot of knowledge to some human rights issues through sport that occur in the rest of society. Just like they occur in sport around issues of inclusion, around issues of sex discrimination, gender equality, racism, homophobia. All of those issues. Sport seemed to be the area that opened up the conversations with those.

With the commission, you were usually talking to a market that was NGOs or lawyers or people within that particular area. It really didn’t go outside to the general mainstream. Occasionally, with asylum seeker issues, that kind of thing. Predominately it was a core area that we engaged in as issues anyway.

When you say the issues occur in sport? And in Australia we’ve seen recently the issues with Adam Goodes around racism in sport. Sport allows that channel to see those issues straight in front of your face on a weekly occurrence. It takes the big esoterical things with human rights—and that was one of the issues.

When people talked about Human Rights in Australia, or issues, a lot of people instantly went to overseas, like Sudan, Syria, that that was a Human Rights issue. And it was constantly trying to bring the argument back of, while Australia is a fair, democratic country, there is a lot of Human Rights issues here with the indigenous community, asylum seeker issues, all those type of things. Disability issues on a daily occurrence.
Sport allows you to see that. It transforms those big, esoterical things into ones that the general community seems to understand with respect, fairness, equality, all that sort of stuff. You don’t see it on a big issue thingy. You see it on a (05:13). You see it in a practical sense that something that you wouldn’t normally consider as a human rights issue of your friend in a wheelchair can’t get access to your sporting club. Suddenly that’s not just, “Oh, bad luck with that.” That is, that’s a human rights issue. Okay, how can your club address that? Alright, let’s look at codes and different things of communication around that.

Similarly with race issues or sexism issues, you see it with sport, it seems to raise it as a bigger issue in the community. And we engage in it. We address it. It seems to be one of the lead areas in society of addressing those issues.

Peter:

I was just thinking yesterday morning, because at the moment in Australia, there’s a very prominent story around racism in a sport. I was just on the radio to the acting Race Discrimination Commissioner, whose name I’ve forgotten.

Paul:

Gillian Triggs?

Peter:

Gillian Triggs, correct. Gillian Triggs. And she was very interesting because she was extremely positive around the discussion around the issue at the moment. That it had raised—Aware the discussion was really good and very informed. And she was quite happy about that. Which I thought was really interesting.

Paul:

Yeah, my thoughts exactly.

The initial incident, if you’d speak to Adam Goode and other players in sport, they hear that sort of abuse from spectators on a common basis. And what was startling was this abuse came from a young girl this time. And I thought that made it more startling. Where is education on this issue in our society if this young girl’s yelling out those sort of comments to a player?

The good thing resulting from that is immediate condemnation from the sport involved with the IFL plus the wider community. And that immediately rose through the media. It rose through Twitter. A big conversation around what racism is, what it does to a person. It wasn’t just the simple thing of “There’s an act, they should be banned,” or “That doesn’t meet the code of conduct.” It raised the issue of what it actually means and does to a person when there’s a racist comment. And I thought that was displayed perfectly on the field. You got to see this player, the hurt and anguish that the racist comment caused to them.

So then you got discussions in the media and casual racism, jokes of racism, what that means, as well. It’s gone on for a couple of days after this now, but the discussion is going on a whole range of tangents as far as indigenous history in Australia and culture and why they would feel so deeply, the comments like that. I think it’s been fantastic for our society to really delve in that. And sport was the initial thing that was the conduit of that.

Peter:

The trigger, isn’t it? A point that you’re very well making, that Gillian made, as well, this is another thing about silent racism that does exist in our society. That is there, but it’s mostly silent and hidden and subtle. It’s not in your face all the time like it has been recently. It’s underpinning all that. And that’s the good thing about the discussion now, how it brings it all out.

Paul:

Yeah, very much so. There’s been a couple incidents in the media recently as far as there’s been one with the ABC with a commentator making a recent comment. The microphone happened to be on, so it was heard. Again, there was immediate condemnation and action of that. And then more recently, the high-profile Collingwood president making a comment on air, as well.

And I think that makes the point. What I’ve heard a lot of the comments is it’s what you say and what you think. So you shouldn’t be saying that stuff anyway, regardless of whether the microphone’s on or not. If you’re thinking and saying that as soon as the microphone’s turned off, you are making racist comments. It’s no use because no one could have heard it, now I’m not a racist. Immediately in your own private, you made a racist comment.

So I really think it’s made people introspective and had a good look at themselves of what racism actually is, regardless of whether it’s jokes or casual remarks. And even better, the effect that that does have on the people of those comments.

Peter:

Gillian also made the point that was very good, that it’s not just a joke. There’s some Talk Back radio discussions of “Oh, people are taking this too seriously. It’s too much political correctness.” She was very adamant and said “No. It’s racism and we need to talk about it.” And I thought it was very good.

Paul:

Yeah. I think that’s the best thing. The discussion has been frank. There has been the kickback of “You’re taking this a bit too far.” And even the incident with the young girl was “Never mind. It’s just a throw-away line at a football match.” I think we’ve come to a position in society now that we can’t accept those throw-away lines or you go back 30 years with the offal, where it was considered part of the sledging to put people off with comments like that. The reaction from the media, the crowd, and society, that “No, this is not on anymore,” that shows that we’ve come a long way with that.

But I think you’re right. With the comments still on the radio and some of the talkback that “Oh, you’re carrying on with it. It’s a bit too far,” shows there’s still an element that doesn’t understand it. And particularly doesn’t understand the effects that racist comments have on people.

Peter:

Yeah. Pull over. Let’s start a bit about yourself. I heard a little bit of the story about your trips in Nepal. And this would be what led you down this path and human rights and we’ll talk about your PhD, as well. What led you down this path? And I’m guessing some of the experiences you’ve had in Nepal and overseas and stuffs kind of helped framework your future career in some ways. Is that right?

Paul:

Yeah, it is. It’s funny when you mentioned the PhD. I was writing a part the other day, and my supervisor got back and said “Could you put a bit of rather personal in there, about why you’re actually doing this.” And the PhD’s around sports. You know, how it breaks down social barriers and builds bridges for different communities. Then I went right back and I wrote it. Then I went right back and then I guess—this got me involved. It made me look at what first got me involved at being an advocate for sport and seeing the power of sport.

I was playing soccer at seven and I went in for a tackle and started limping after that for a couple of weeks. I was the average seven-year old that runs around, running here and there. Mom took me to the doctor’s and—it wasn’t involved with the tackle apparently. But I’ve got a disease called Perthes disease. And it basically erodes the ball, the ball on top of your hip where it fits into the socket there.

And on my seventh birthday was the prognosis that you’re going to spend the next two to five years in bed to take the weight off it. Or you can go in a crutches frame for the next two years to keep the leg in a certain position to let blood flow and heal it. If you didn’t do that, the prognosis was limping for the rest of your life, a lot of arthritic pain, that type of thing. There was no choice. I went straight into a metal frame on your legs to walk around and crutches for the next two years.

In all accounts, Mum and Dad had to fight very hard just to keep me in a normal school with that. Just a government school, not a special school to assist with that. And I was the same old kid. Same person going out of that doctor’s meeting, but it’s just that now I had that disability for the next couple of years. It was insane and it was great.

In some areas in school, the teachers were a bit different. And getting access to the rooms was quite difficult on the second level of things. But sport was the best thing. I’d go at it on the playground at lunchtime, and I was the same as the other kids. Bit harder to get ‘round with the frame and the crutches. But I involved me with kicking the ball around and I did handball. Sports seemed to dissolve that disability a bit. Or it evened it up where it didn’t have any resistance in society.

And looking back on that, I see suddenly, without knowing it, I’d become an advocate for what the power of sport can do for people in different areas of society.

Peter:

But it doesn’t seem to have restricted your silky ball skills.

Paul:

[Laughs] Yeah, it did. I lost those at the age of seven. And further to that, I ran a few sporting magazines when I was younger. So that was the passion with sport with journalism. And then I did the trip to Nepal and a little bit of a career change over into the Human Rights area. And I guess that had been evolving for a while with doing a Masters’ around it in actual Community Development. And then I was lucky enough to get a job at the Human Right Commission as a Media Advisor for a few of the different commissioners—O’Brien, Minister of Disability and Pru Goward and gender issues and Tom Cameron and indigenous issues.

 

I was exposed to a lot of—whereas I had these blinkered eyes and a real lover of sport to do everything, for a few of the projects I worked on, you could see, particularly for culturally, linguistically diverse communities or indigenous communities how sport had barriers and they couldn’t get the same participation as groups. So I was in that quandary: Is sport, then, the great thing or is sport the problem?

And I guess that led me to the PhD and to working with the Human Rights Commission.

Peter:

Well let’s get this explained out a little bit, because sport: we try to talk about it, obviously, in a very positive way. That it’s great leveler and also good for inclusion. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s the opposite, isn’t it? Especially, as you talk about, different cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds and different cultures and things, and it can be a great vehicle for exclusion.

Paul:

Yeah, very much so. The things a lot of people take for granted are, particularly for indigenous communities or remote communities: access to grounds and facilities and coaches. And all those things are limited, so you don’t get the same opportunities. Cold communities have different barriers and issues, as well, as far as training times, the different clothing they can wear. Even notions of playing organized sport are just playing fun, recreational sport in the park, totally different for those different communities.

And that’s not to say the systemic barriers of indigenous or cold players making national teams and being seen as role models in sport. Or being used in promotional campaigns for different sports. Or having role models as coaches or umpires in different levels. If you go across the board with a lot of sports, that doesn’t exist there. I mean it’s changing a lot, even the sports are doing a lot in those areas these days. But sport isn’t the solver of every social ill.

Peter:

No. No, not at all. Paul, we might start to wind up there. But what’s in store for you the next six months or so? You’re pretty busy at the moment with a few issues going on. But what do you see the next six months holding for you?

Paul:

Very much we play by the rules. Just developing new resources for the website. And I guess just the success of the campaign and the races. And it starts with me of getting the message out to the wider community, of looking how we can do that in enough areas of sport. And one, that’s one of the growing issues, it doesn’t get as much exposure as racism is homophobia. So we’ll be looking to do stuff in that area. Again, partnerships with groups that are doing fantastic work in that area, as well. And personally with a PhD.

Peter:

What year’s that due to finish?

Paul:

It’s due next year. It just depends on how we go.

Peter:

And then the speaking tour begins and the—?

Paul:

Yeah. [Laughs] It’s been seven people who’ll be interested in the outcome of the report. [Laughs]

Peter:

Oh, I’m sure it’ll be more than that who’ll be happy when it’s done. Be a quite significant moment when you’ve finished your PhD. I’ll have to call you Dr. Oliver.

Paul:

Yeah, I’ll be able to operate on you then.

Peter:

[Laughs] That is a worry.

 

Paul:

The other good thing, I guess, in July, heading over to Cambridge University, there’s a colloquium of a few universities in Australia. And a few of the bigger sports in Australia going over to meet with the Premier League. They’ll be discussing issues they’ve experienced over there and what we do in Australia and the UK. Hopefully some things to learn from that and bring back, as well.

Peter:

Nice, nice. Well, Thank you very much for joining us today on Tic Talks.

Paul:

Thanks, Pete. Any time.