This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
When Ian Roberts took a phone call from former Wallabies star David Pocock asking if he would be interested in being part of “The Cool Down”, he didn’t hesitate before saying yes.
“The Cool Down” is a movement established by athletes encouraging bold action on climate change.
The athletes involved have signed an open letter that encourages Australia’s Federal Government to take stronger and faster action in relation to climate change.
This is about more than just safeguarding the future of sport, which is such an important part of Australian life. For the 250+ athletes that are involved, it is also about safeguarding the future of Australia and our planet.
What makes “The Cool Down” so powerful is that it involves athletes from a multitude of sports including netball, rugby union, golf, football, surfing, tennis, snowboarding, wheelchair basketball and cricket.
There is also a strong commitment and involvement by rugby league players including Angus Crichton, Mitch Rein, Reece Walsh, Ronaldo Mulitalo and Nathan Cleary.
For Roberts, getting involved was a “no-brainer”.
“This is something I am extremely passionate because I am greenie at heart,” said Roberts.
“When David reached out to me I had to put my name forward and show my support in raising awareness around climate change and in particular, the impact it has on our environment our wildlife.
“The impact of the climate crisis are happening in our lifetime. We are seeing the effects right before our eyes and I have certainly noticed the difference in the weather extremes.
“It’s important that we keep this conversation going so it stays front of mind; this issue is too important for there to be any gaps in the conversation.”
I had to put my name forward and show my support in raising awareness around climate change
League legend Ian Roberts
This isn’t the first time that Roberts has used his voice to advocate for change.
He was Australia’s first professional rugby league player to come out as gay and for decades has spoken about the importance of inclusion in sport.
He continues to do this now, particularly in his role as a patron of Pride in Sport.
“When I was at South Sydney in the mid to late 1980s, I was fine with myself as a gay man,” Roberts said.
“But even though I was gay, I didn’t feel like there was a need to have to “come out”, I knew people knew and I wanted people to accept me for who I am.
“It wasn’t until the mid-1990s when I was at Manly that I ‘came out’ publicly.”
During the last two decades though, Roberts realised that he had a bigger role to play.
“In the last 20 years, particularly the last 10, because of the lack of visibility with gay men in professional sport, it almost felt like speaking out was a responsibility I had to take on board,” said Roberts.
“People shouldn’t come out unless they feel comfortable and safe and it is clear that we still have work to do in professional men’s sport, even though we have come a really long way.
“I realised that I had to take the steering wheel and not be afraid to have a voice.”
There is a view held by some that sport and politics should not mix.
But for Roberts, this is difficult to reconcile with the idea that human beings are inherently political because of many factors including their gender, race and sexuality.
This means that no matter how much you try to separate the two things, sport and politics are absolutely intertwined. For Roberts, the moment you speak out about one of these issues, it becomes a “political act”.
Given the backlash some have faced in the past, it’s also easy for Roberts to understand why some current players may feel apprehensive about speaking out about issues that are important to them. But for Roberts, the stakes are too high to stay silent.
“When it comes to inclusion of LGBTQI+ people, it is about making our workplaces safe places so everyone can be themselves,” said Roberts.
“When it comes to climate change, it is about the future of our planet.
“We can’t just stay silent on these things.”