Sport has a unique power to uplift

I shared an article earlier this month on Twitter, about the Echuca Rockets, an all-abilities AFL team changing the lives of the players and their local community. The Rockets play in the Victorian Football Integration Development Association, a league for players with an intellectual disability.

You had to smile reading the story and how being a part of the team has changed the lives of so many of the players and their families. The Rockets give players a way to make friends, have a kick and increase their confidence.

It reminds us how much joy sport gives us.

Whether that’s at a community level like the Rockets, or at an elite level like the AFL, sport has a unique ability to bring people from all walks of life together, and helps us maintain strong friendships and connections.

Inclusion is a key bonus of sport. Just pretend you’ve moved cities, you’re out of your comfort zone and you don’t know anyone. One of the best ways to meet new people is through sport.

And we have been spoilt for sport the past month. We had the Commonwealth Games where my friend Peter Bol made Australia proud winning silver in his 800m race. It was an iconic year for the Games too, with no separate schedules for athletes and para-athletes. Inclusive sport at its finest.

AFL fans have also reached finals time, and, wow, as a Pies supporter I don’t know how my nerves aren’t fully wrecked after Sunday’s blockbuster game against the Blue Baggers. The game drew one of the biggest crowds of this year, almost 90,000 fans cheering — and holding their breath in the last quarter — heard well past the stands at the MCG.

It was a game enjoyable even if your team wasn’t playing. A comeback win from behind is exciting. The endorphins rush when you watch sporting prowess and the elation of other fans can absolutely rub off on you (sorry Carlton… maybe next year!).

Collingwood has given me many of those moments this year. One of my favourite moments from this season, and perhaps ever, was Jamie Elliott’s goal after the siren against Essendon in round 19.

It was a close match, fuelled even more by a 10 years plus Pies and Bombers rivalry, and the roaring crowd shook the cameras as Elliott celebrated after the siren. He is the first Collingwood player in almost 20 years since Chris Tarrant to kick a goal after the siren to win his club the match.

Another memorable moment for me was during the last round. I think sportsmanship has been a bit underrated lately. We see plenty in the news when there’s been more unsavoury on field and off field behaviour, but I think we should give oxygen to the good news sometimes.

The Richmond and Essendon game, although a blow out, had one of those “good news” moments. This was a special game for the Bombers: much-loved veteran Michael Hurley had a remarkable comeback to play one final game.

Remarkable because for Hurley, there was a time when it looked unlikely he would ever run again after suffering a hip infection before the 2021 season. Here he was back in 2022 defying the odds.

During the game Hurley had his chance to nail a goal, when the Sherrin flew through the middle, expectedly the Bombers supporters went wild with Hurley’s teammates celebrating alongside him.

What some didn’t expect was to see Richmond players equally happy to celebrate Hurley, patting him on the back and walking back to the centre square together. I don’t know how else to describe it, but it was just really decent. Especially in contrast to other things that happened during last week’s round, it’s good to see respect and sportsmanship is still well and truly alive.

For a team closer to home for you West Aussies, another moment of bittersweet joy I had was Josh Kennedy’s last game. Although the Eagles didn’t get the win, Kennedy’s whopping eight goals for his last game still gave supporters something to cheer. Kennedy hanging up the boots will undoubtedly sadden many AFL fans but that shows the power sport has on us.

Sport gives us memories, sometimes it gives us nerves but at the end of the day, it gives us happiness.