Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster believes in the power of sport more than most.
- Foster said as sport stars aged they realised they a platform they could use to effect change
- Foster praised Cricket Australia for its recent cancellation of a series against Afghanistan
- He said the community spirit where he grew up inspired him
For him, using sport as a way to make the world a better place and as a weapon in the fight for human rights is not negotiable — it is just a part of the way things should be.
Foster, who was recently named New South Wales’ Australian of the Year, opened up on ABC Grandstand about what inspired his tireless work using sport to advocate for the oppressed.
“Sport, as you mature, you recognise it gives you a platform,” he told Grandstand.
“And the question for all of us in sport is, how do we use that, if at all?”
“Do we just cover multiple World Cups, travel the world and have a great time?
“Or do we try and use it for other people who lack that opportunity, who lack that privilege? That’s what I’ve always tried to do.
“When I grew up [in Lismore in northern NSW], people used to put the hand to the wheel in whatever respect it was needed in the community.
“That was a really strong aspect of what I saw in the culture of regional, country Australia, and I’ve carried that right through my life.”
Foster’s fight is not always easy, especially in the modern, global sporting landscape.
The recent FIFA World Cup in Qatar forced football fans into a moral compromise, given the Middle Eastern nation’s poor record on women’s and LGTBQI rights.
But Foster believes shining a light on these situations and using them to build a better future is vital in creating social progress through sport.
“It’s really difficult, but it’s important that we continue to keep having the conversation,” he said.
“And everyone around the world has a right to be involved in sport unless and until they are committing egregious human rights abuses.
“All countries have human rights issues, including Australia, [but] there’s a basic threshold beyond which you have to say, ‘That’s enough.’ South Africa with apartheid was a great example. The international community said they could not participate.
“But it’s important we have a benchmark and the framework to measure everyone against.
“The big challenge now is human-rights-abusing countries that have serious, egregious issues on basic women’s rights, basic labour rights, things that we take for granted.
“Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain [are] moving in with literally billions of dollars and pretty much taking over sports.
“David Beckham put out a video saying Qatar is a paradise. Well, it’s certainly not a paradise for dissidents, it’s not a paradise for journalists, it’s not a paradise for people who criticise Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud or the kingdom and are executed.
“This is how sport can also be used in a nefarious way — to try and cover up human rights abuses and try to change the image of a country to one that’s simply not true.”
As an example of the kind of change Foster believes sport can inspire, the 53-year-old points towards the recent decision from the Australian cricket team to cancel the upcoming series against Afghanistan.
Cricket Australia opted to withdraw from the series based on the Taliban’s policy of refusing to allow women to participate in sport.
Foster believes other sports should be inspired by Cricket Australia’s decision.
“I thought the Australian Cricket Board did a fantastic job,” he said. “I thought it was the right decision.
“Any country, in my view, who does not allow women to play sport or participate in sport at all, they therefore forfeit any membership of international sport.
“This is where the politics at the very high level have to always be challenged, and that’s why we need the players’ voice in particular, which is why they’re growing in volume.
“It’s appropriate Australia takes that stance. We take tremendous pride in the continuing journey towards gender equity.
“If a country cannot even allow women to play sport, how can Australia play against them and legitimise them when they’re oppressing women? It’s simply not possible.”