People often seem surprised when they find out that I love AFL (they’re even more surprised when I tell them I’m a loyal member of the Melbourne Demons Football Club). It appears that “sustainability” and “footy” are polar opposites when it comes to stereotypes. Is it really possible for a female environmental educator and campaigner (a.k.a. bleeding-heart greenie) to also love a testosterone dominated mainstream sport? Yes, yes it is. And may I go even further to say that the environmental movement could learn a lot from AFL football.
Belonging and Loyalty
It takes extreme patience to be a Demons supporter. I have been waiting for years for us to ‘rebuild’ our player list. Did you notice how I said “us”? AFL clubs work hard to build member loyalty through their marketing and events. Each team has its own image – it’s own song/anthem, recognisable logo and uniform, slogan, car stickers, scarves, hats, badges, team stories, history etc. I often share a knowing smile or a conversation with a complete stranger because we belong to the same ‘pack’. My father and brothers are Demons supporters – I would never choose to be a member of another team (not even my husband’s team, who have had a better season) – footy is more than skin deep. Loyalty and being a member helps the most die-hard fan support a club through its darkest times, especially when it only wins two games in a season. In moments like these, AFL clubs are experts at damage control and ensure their message is positive and future-based.
The environment movement has a rich and interesting history but a lot could be done in the area of marketing and creating belonging. We need to foster a stronger sense of ‘team’, we need an anthem, we need some re-branding and we even need more car stickers. We need to be better at damage control and more consistent positive messages that create a sense of passion and belonging. I’d like to acknowledge that environmental organisations, CERES included, are working on better use of marketing tools to develop campaigns and sense of belonging… but we have a way to go yet.
Hype and Atmosphere
The sound of the siren, the roar of the crowd, the music, the atmosphere… this is what draws me to AFL games in the pouring rain in the middle of Winter. Attending a footy game at the MCG is an exciting experience and I love the adrenaline rush during the centre bounce or a close score in the last five minutes. The atmosphere is contagious. In the 2013 AFL Finals advertisement (www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUj3BjIfDgg), Tim Rogers sits in the crowd at the MCG and says, “There’s nothing like being here”. When I walk to the MCG, my scarf around my neck, I feel part of something larger than myself. I am excited and full of hope (you would’ve thought that, as a Demons supporter, I would’ve learnt by now).
But where is the ‘here’ for the environment movement? For me, the closest similarity of going to a footy game is participating in a protest rally. Walking the streets together and feeling part of a movement of people. We seem to have left the streets and are instead sitting in front of our computers. This has its place but being physically together not only shows the world that we are many in number but also buoys the human spirit. One of the reasons I love my job is because I often get to gather with people who care about the Earth and are excited to create change. I wish everyone had a chance to do this regularly. In general, excitement seems to have been replaced with a growing heaviness of the tasks that lie before us. Imagine if people got as fired up about the environment as they did about the footy! Hype creates motivation which in turns creates passion and belonging.
Winning Games and Celebrating Champions
Even though we celebrate a well-played game, Demons supporters will be the first to tell you that winning is what it’s all about. When our team wins, everyone starts turning up to games. When our team loses, we’re lucky to have 20,000 attendees. Celebrating the wins and singing the club song loudly is what supporters live for. And with every great club are club champions; those who show amazing leadership on and off the field are worshipped by their flock of supporters. They are the players that inspire fans to spend hours making banners to hold up during a game.
I believe that celebration and leadership are instrumental to the progress of the environmental movement. A great example is the recent transformation of the Climate Commission, now Climate Council. An impressive demonstration of people power, the crowd funding of the Climate Council sends a message (“I think this is important no matter what the government thinks”) and has lifted the spirits of many around me. Let’s ensure that we are dancing, singing and shouting our good new stories, our ‘wins’, to the community. Heroes is another large issue in the environmental movement. We have some incredible grass-roots heroes but very few in the public eye. The David Suzukis and David Attenboroughs of this world are really important but we lack young leaders and female leaders (Arron Wood and Anna Rose are doing their part to fill this gap). When I ask young people who their environmental heroes are, they struggle to come up with an answer. It’s time for us to promote our ‘club champions’ for the environment.
Recruitment, Training, Succession Planning and the Coach
There has been quite a buzz around the 2013 AFL Trade Period. Recruitment is key during this time – having the right people with the right skills and the right attitude. Then those players need to be coached and undertake the right training in order to become effective on the field. Included in this recruitment process is succession planning and ensuring that young players are nurtured to become future leaders of the club. The same goes for the club’s head coach. Hopefully Paul Roos is the right choice for the Demons and a strong coach will bring everything discussed above – member loyalty, skilled players, leadership and more than two wins in the season.
The environment movement attracts people from a variety of backgrounds and with impressive skill sets. Lack of resources and professional development still plague some environmental organisations but there is definitely more training sources available and coaching/mentoring for those who need it. We still need to elevate some leaders into the status of the Suzukis and the Attenboroughs (see above) but we’ve got an amazing group to choose from in our succession planning.
Embedding in Our National Culture
Imagine if the AFL cancelled the Grand Final. People would riot in the streets! Sport is embedded in our national culture and is part of the heart of our Australian identity. In 2013, the AFL announced a record total club membership tally of 756,717 people (www.theage.com.au/afl/afl-news/afl-sets-club-membership-record-20130822-2seke.html#ixzz2iyH1lM8a). Membership to AFL clubs grew by over 6% and that was in a year with significant club scandals on and off the field.
Some would argue that the natural environment is also at the heart of our national identity. But would the public become enraged if it was ‘cancelled’? Our natural environment is being eradicated at the moment and I don’t see riots in the streets. In 2011, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found, “Australia’s natural environment is fundamental to the quality of life and wellbeing of Australians, as well as providing key inputs to the economy”. Thankfully, the ABS also found that, “increasing population and economic pressures have caused many people to be increasingly concerned about the state of both the Australian and wider global environment”(ABC report can be found here).
Our challenge is to encourage people to care so much for the environment that they connect on a deep level, feel loyalty and belonging (no matter what happens), have leaders to look up to and connect it to their Australian identity. Game on!
Group Manager – CERES Education
This blog was originally published at CERES. You can read the original blog here.