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Faith in Practice

Personal performance

Hannah Kowszun

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Following a childhood flight from Zimbabwe, David Pocock has become a key member of the Australian rugby team - shortlisted for world player of the year. He returns to Africa regularly to campaign for global sustainability.

My mum has a photo of me at about five months old trying to reach for a rugby ball just out of my grasp. I think I always thought I'd play representative level rugby; I spent so much of my spare time playing or practicing or watching games. Mum and Dad thankfully always encouraged these aspirations and never suggested that it wasn't a possibility.

When my family left Zimbabwe I think the overwhelming thing I understood was constant fear and uncertainty. I'm the eldest and my two younger brothers were 12 and 9 when we left, so obviously our parents tried to shield us a great deal from what was going on. It affected us in different ways, but all of us had an underlying sense of trying to come to terms with, and gain control over, our new lives in Australia.

I have been back a number of times and, after starting EightyTwenty Vision1 in 2007, I now return once a year. We still have family living there and I have a great deal of love for the country and its people. I often think how lucky we were having the opportunity to leave what was a pretty scary and daunting situation. So many didn't have that option and the way they have persevered with their lives is very inspiring. They put the 'problems' we carry on about in the West into perspective.

Although I still follow Zimbabwean teams with interest, I definitely support the Wallabies now. I do feel like I'm representing my country - although both in Zimbabwe and here in Australia I have seen the ugly side of nationalism - and there is pride and a sense of being humbled by that reality.

When we arrived in Australia I plunged headlong into training with a determination to succeed that partly came from a desire to control something in my life, because the last few years in Zimbabwe had been so beyond my control. In recent years my approach has become much healthier and I cope during difficult periods by trying to make sure I take time to meditate and connect with nature. Last year I tore a medial ligament and spent the six-week recovery period working in my garden. Having grown up on a farm the opportunity to work with my hands again has been significant. I find the ongoing connection to our food source and the earth that sustains us really transformative. It was a great time for Em (my partner) and I as we are now proudly producing our own vegetables and hoping next year our fruit trees will be blossoming too.

I love working as part of a team and am very aware of all the politics and processes that happen when you have so many people working towards the same goal. I don't think that makes me any less aware of my personal performance; it's a cliché but once you're playing at professional level you have to be your own worst critic. I suppose the real difference comes with the media being less able to target you as an individual because success is reliant on a cohesive team performance. This is one of the best and worst parts of playing in a team: the jubilation when you run onto the field with your mates and play well together, and the terrible despair when you feel you've let your mates down.

I'm often hesitant when people ask me if I'm a Christian. Not that I'm ashamed to be a follower of Jesus, quite the opposite. I'm just so aware of the sort of implications and meanings that lie in the word 'Christian' and not all of them I'm too happy to be associated with.

Em and I have quite a few friends who don't fall within the safe camp of heterosexuality and their experiences have been traumatic at the hands of both individuals and a society that supports, encourages and engenders homophobic attitudes. A 'love the sinner, hate the sin' ethic is not one that sits comfortably with us when we have seen same-sex relationships that are healthy, transformative and life giving. How can we tell these friends their deep love for one another is an abomination?

I think being a follower of Christ requires me to live in a way that reflects the way he lived and the things he taught, most significantly the way he calls us to 'Love the least of these'. In our world - where there are more slaves than at any other time in human history, where 80% of the global population lives at or below the poverty line, where despite abundant wealth and resources people are denied the right to basic healthcare, education, shelter, and reliable food and water sources - it's not difficult to see the ongoing relevance of that call from Jesus some 2,000 years ago.

There is a limited period of time when I will have a public profile because of my work and I do feel I have a responsibility to use my profile to help those who have no voice of their own. It has certainly opened a great many doors that might otherwise have been closed. I've been told that it's not my place to comment on these kinds of issues, that I should 'stick to sport', and yet the same people who suggest I stay silent have no problem with me endorsing a commercial product.

I try very hard to endorse only those products whose production hasn't resulted in oppression for others and, much more importantly, use it to generate discussion and action around issues of injustice. For instance the kind of structural and global injustice that sees our friends in Zimbabwe living in poverty as subsistence farmers, or the people of Kiribati experience with their island nation being swallowed up by rising sea levels. It would be disingenuous for me to not speak out, not to use this period in my life to try and at least add to some of these conversations.

David Pocock was talking to Hannah Kowszun

1  A charity working with the people of Nkayi, Zimbabwe.