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Sports people do make a difference, on and off the field

The Age

Thursday February 17, 2011

MARK ARBIB - Mark Arbib is the Minister for Sport.

Their philanthropy is genuine, and should be applauded. TWO months ago I visited a new facility in Melbourne that is helping young people at risk of homelessness. It's taking kids off the streets and not only providing them with a home, but also with the support and mentoring they need to find a job or get back into education and break the cycle of homelessness. I visited a similar facility in Adelaide just last month.What most people don't know, and will never hear, is that both of these facilities are being run with the support of the AFL and its Players Association.They were also the idea of AFL players who are putting their own time and money into the Ladder organisation tackling youth homelessness. They help mentor the young people and boost their self-esteem.I met the young men and women at Ladder. They've been through some terrible personal situations with violence and abuse. And they said the players made a huge difference, spending hours of their own time there helping them.I've spoken to the players and they don't do it for the headlines and the recognition. This is not an issue that attracts big media interest. And they don't do it because the AFL and its highly skilled publicity machine tell them to.They do it because they know that playing high-level sport gives them advantages other people don't always share and that they can make a difference to people's lives.Yesterday, on this page, former treasurer Peter Costello used one unfortunate incident to say sports stars, and particularly AFL players, should not be role models or be involved in school and philanthropic endeavours.Frankly, that's insulting. As was his view that "clever publicists have convinced cricketers that charity work will enhance their image and their brand".Mr Costello was a good treasurer and is a decent man, but he should know better than that, especially as he was Essendon's number one ticket holder for years and would have seen firsthand the great work of people like Kevin Sheedy and Michael Long.If he doesn't understand the value of what sports people put back into the community then he should keep his mouth shut.If sports people can use their celebrity to raise money for charity, as footballer Tim Cahill and countless others have done, then that should be encouraged rather than criticised.The Steve Waugh Foundation, for example, is working to help change things for children with a rare disease by giving hope, providing medicine, equipment and treatment, supporting education and research, as well as supporting specific projects and programs.Steve spent 18 years of touring as a professional cricketer and had the opportunity to see different countries and cultures. He says it affected him deeply and provided him with the inspiration for his involvement in philanthropy.Sports people will have different motivations for what they do, but to tar them all with the same brush is both unfair and uncalled for.Sport can help individuals and communities rise out of poverty and disadvantage and bring out the best in us all.Under the Costello policy, the government's Learn. Earn. Legend! campaign, which started with last year's hugely successful NRL Indigenous All Stars game and now includes AFL, cricket and tennis, would be scrapped.Learn. Earn. Legend! uses sporting role models to encourage young indigenous people to stay in school, get their education and move into a job. It also encourages them to play sport, like their role models, and enjoy the benefits of the game.And sports stars such as Adam Goodes, Michael O'Loughlin, Scott Prince, Preston Campbell and Evonne Goolagong Cawley are working tirelessly to inspire and motivate young people to improve their lives.I could list hundreds of instances every year where AFL players and their counterparts in other sports give their time.Not all sports people are good role models. But then neither are all doctors, all lawyers, all teachers or all politicians. And some young sports people do stupid things just as some young people in all walks of life do stupid things.The community sets high expectations for our biggest sporting stars. We should applaud those who live up to those standards.And Peter Costello should know better.

© 2011 The Age

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