Commitment

Blue Vests for Inappropriate or Inspirational?

AFL’s reaction to the increased poor behaviour in match day crowds (image: Reddit)

AFL’s reaction to the increased poor behaviour in match day crowds (image: Reddit)

The balance between safety and Orwellian dystopia

One of life’s joys in my world is going to watch live sport. I loved playing and intend to enjoy swinging a golf club for decades to come, but watching elite sport is special to me. In fact, I get a little angsty if I go too long without it. I love how I can be watching a sporting event anywhere in the world and turn a stranger next to me and discuss a topic on hand freely with complete openness and connection. Its great fun!

I also love getting parochial. I am big, loud, and can be as one-eyed as any other supporter (i.e.. my team is always getting a raw deal.) It is also a good opportunity to catch up with mates and discuss everything that is going on in our worlds.

With my crew at the Liverpool FC exhibition match at Adelaide Oval a few years ago

With my crew at the Liverpool FC exhibition match at Adelaide Oval a few years ago

It is for all these reasons that my first reaction to the AFL’s Behavioural Awareness Officers at football games this week has been met with scepticism. The supporter nation has expressed its distaste to this initiative as there is a feeling in Australia that yet another layer of policing and surveillance has been introduced.

You can hear the sporting population crying out “What! Now, I can’t even go to a game of footy without being treated like a school kid!” The parallel to George Orwell’s 1984 are being drawn often, and this does not fill my heart with joy.

On the other side, there are harsh realities to face. Do we know how to behave? Are we good at self-regulation? Is it the small minority that ruin it for the rest? In the context of AFL footy, there have been an increased incident of fist fights at games in recent years (the Age). 2019, has been full of anti-social behavioural incidents and trend is not going in the right direction.

So, if the answer to the above questions was ‘no’, then what is the appropriate action to nudge us in the right direction?   

A friend of mine from childhood, Brooke Taylor, works hospitality at Adelaide Oval during AFL games. She speaks of a heavy police presence that should be able to manage anti-social behaviour as there are already plenty of them at games. This on top of security guards dotted around the ground and in stands.

Yet, the AFL felt the need to add another layer of targeted security – the Blue Vested Behavioural Awareness Officers.  

A heavy Police presence - is more of this answer in our communities, teams, and organisations?

A heavy Police presence - is more of this answer in our communities, teams, and organisations?

In my view it is clear that no one wants to be in any environment where they feel unsafe. So Inappropriate behaviour is what we want to eradicate. On the other end of the spectrum is the behaviour we want to encourage; I would suggest this is Inspirational behaviour. Then there is a large gulf in the middle with the centre probably being Vanilla (a generic term for boring or non-descript).

The Behaviour Scale. In the pursuit of Vanilla we can increase the Inappropriate.

The Behaviour Scale. In the pursuit of Vanilla we can increase the Inappropriate.

In searching for lowering the Inappropriate it would seem the AFL have aimed to increase the Vanilla. By doing this, there has unfortunately been an increase in the Inappropriate. Not a decrease.

 It would seem that the Inspirational has been left out of the discussion. Some of the comments in the media have displayed this. A good example is that of Jeff Kennett (ex-Victorian Premier, and current Hawthorn president) saying,

"I’m not being racist when I say this, but when I saw some of the footage, the people who are making judgments while they wear these authoritative coats, are not people who appear to have a great knowledge of our game."

This is not helpful, and Kennett has apologised since. But there is one element in his comment that is near the mark. Stay with me on this.

In 2004, Portugal hosted the European Cup in soccer (like the World Cup, but for European Nations). The Portuguese were readying themselves for an invasion of English fans (called Hooligans) that would travel in mass and had a reputation as the most thuggish in the world. Riot gear and water cannon tanks were being marshalled ($21 million worth!). Aside to this they also enrolled other help. Clifford Stott, a crowd violence expert was drafted in to help. He implemented Blue Vests, coincidentally as the AFL have done. But in a very different way and with greatly different results.  

Riots in Portugal’s Euro 2004 tournament occurred where Riot Police were stationed. Coincidence?

Riots in Portugal’s Euro 2004 tournament occurred where Riot Police were stationed. Coincidence?

 Stott, implemented the following ideas:

1.       No riot gear – this signals war. It signals get ready to fight. The exact opposite message to send the crowds.

2.       Select the right people – he did not select officers for their riot control skills, but ones that had good social skills. They could have a friendly chat and strike up conversation.

3.       Study – all of these officers were encouraged to study the teams, the players, the coaches, and form guides. This is the bit Kennett was on nearer the target on – game knowledge is crucial to be able to interact in a way to signal positive behaviours.

4.       Intervention – policing at the level the crowd saw as appropriate, not a level the police saw as appropriate. This was the toughest initiative to get the team behind. It seemed illogical but proved essential. This would eradicate feelings of injustice and violent responses.

The result was that over a three-week period, Portugal welcomed over one million fans and there was only one arrest of an English supporter. There were 2000 police-crowd interactions reported, with only 0.4% qualifying as disorderly. The only violence experienced was in areas where Riot Policing was still being utilised. In fact, one incident occurred in Portugal where English fans asked the Blue Vests to sort out another policeman who was using force on a punter. The Hooligans were now policing the police’s behaviour!

In 2008, they literally wrote the handbook based on Stott’s and other’s work called Policing football in Europe. Not everything translates, but Gillion McLachlan (AFL CEO) could do with including this in his bedtime reading.

The big lesson I take from this is that when the police, security, and the crowd have a sense of shared purpose, the Inspirational behaviours are encouraged. Everyone is on the same side.

This provides us all with an opportunity to reflect on our teams and organisations where all too often there are heavy handed tactics to ‘Vanilla’ everyone’s behaviour instead of encouraging Inspirational behaviours.

What type of Blue Vests do you want to see? What type of Blue Vest are you?

Ash the quitter

Ash French Open Winner.jpg

A story of quitting on the way to the top

Ipswich, Queensland – 1996. Ashleigh Barty is born to an indigenous dad and a mother with English descendancy. Humble beginnings served Ash well, and her attitude was old school right from the start. She opted for tennis instead of netball as a child because, in her words “netball is a girls sport”. Ash rapidly became a gun tennis player winning the Wimbledon Juniors title at age 15.

A young Ash Barty - so cute

A young Ash Barty - so cute

Next step – the Pro’s. Ash would spend the next two years earning every start to every tournament she played in. Eventually Ash would experience some success in the doubles game more than singles. Ranked outside the top 200 in the world, Ash then made a decision… she quit.

"it was too much too quickly for me as I've been travelling from quite a young age... I wanted to experience life as a normal teenaged girl and have some normal experiences."

Ash had a chat to some cricket administrators about trialling for a new WBBL (Womens Big Bash League) concept. Unlike others that tried to cross over from different sports, Ash had the goods and was signed up for the Brisbane Heat’s inaugural season.

Playing Twenty20 cricket fro Brisbane - taking a break

Playing Twenty20 cricket fro Brisbane - taking a break

After two years hiatus, Ash decided to return to tennis in 2016. Starting from the bottom again, she would compete well straight away. Ash was now ready to take on the challenge of the Pro Tour. In 2017, The Malaysian Open becomes her first Top Tier (WTA) Singles Title, followed by a string of successes in the doubles game.

In a world of big personalities and brands like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, Ash is unnoticeable. Almost invisible on the world stage. In Australia, the antics of Nick Kyrios get 100 times more column space in the papers than Ash. But like a skilled ninja she operates in the shadows slowly but surely working her way up the world rankings.

As Ernest Hemmingway once said, “everything in life happens gradually, and then suddenly”.

Boom – Ash Barty is the 2019 French Open Singles Champion. Ash Barty is the world ranked number two player in the world. Aged 23 years old. But she is not just a Major Winner. She is a force to be reckoned with. Her game is tight. She is strong, skilful, and strategic.

What a story.

The girl has come a long way

The girl has come a long way

But, for me, this is a story of quitting. Ash taught us that we are all allowed to quit, but we can never give up on our ultimate goal. Ash never stopped being a professional tennis player, she just took some time out from playing tennis.

Angela Duckworth writes about the power of ‘never giving up’ in her book Grit.

One of the building blocks of grit, or Tenacity as I put it, is the practice of committing to something hard. Duckworth’s rules are:

1.       You need to have one hard thing to practice regularly.

2.       You can quit, but only at a natural stopping point that is designated at the start.

3.       You choose your own.

Thank you Ashleigh Barty for teaching us about the power of quitting while never giving up.