Iemma making an impact off the field
February 24, 2017
It’s Saturday morning and former NSW Premier Morris Iemma is setting up fluorescent orange witches hats to form a boundary on the outskirts of a suburban park, well aware he’ll also be expected to take his turn as a scorer and umpire.
If you think Iemma’s role as a humble cricket volunteer is a world away from his life as the state’s most powerful politician . . . think again.
Since becoming president of Kingsgrove Cricket Club in 2010-11, Iemma has orchestrated a tireless recruitment campaign that’s resulted in his club’s playing ranks tripling to almost 300 players; he’s actively recruited players from non-English speaking backgrounds; he’s helped schools ‘rediscover’ cricket and even convinced other parents to become volunteers – and help him with the witches hats!
Iemma says he’s embraced the role as a volunteer because of the ‘good’ cricket can do to promote a sense of “community” and “belonging”. He’s also driven by the belief cricket can provide children with the foundation needed to become solid citizens.
“There’s immense pride in knowing cricket becomes the vehicle to build a stronger community,” said Iemma, whose reign as premier spanned from 2005-08.
“You can build a greater sense of belonging; build social and community cohesion and that’s an important - and serious - side to making our country better and stronger.
“Often what is undiscovered - or unrealised - is there’s an enormous amount of money spent by governments on all sorts of programs aimed at building community cohesion, understanding and integration . . . and here’s this wonderful sport that’s been around for a very long time.
“It is played by billions across the world from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds, and here we are [in south-western Sydney] using cricket as an opportunity to achieve objectives governments have set themselves for a very long time - AND have enormous budgets [for].
“Here’s this wonderful sport, a great vehicle to achieve that.”
Iemma, a former Aussie Rules player, immersed himself in cricket the afternoon his daughter Clara announced she’d joined her school’s cricket team.
His sons Matthew, Joshua and Luca followed, and while each child would eventually attain representative honours it was inevitable their civic-minded father would embrace junior sport volunteerism.
“Often you fall into these things,” he laughed.
“You take the kids along to register; you pay the money; you drive them to their sport; you get asked by these wonderful volunteers to be [part of] the backbone of community sport: ‘look, can you help out with the witches hats, [hammer in] the stumps . . . ’
“Then you’re asked ‘do you mind umpiring?’; ‘Do you mind scoring?’ After a little while there’s someone on the committee who says ‘oh look, we can always do with some new hands on the committee’.
“After that, you’re told [by the president] ‘I’ve had a good run as president, we’re looking for somebody new .You’ve been with us for a little while, do you mind?’
“Pretty soon you’re sucked completely in.”
Not that Iemma is complaining, he’s thrived on the challenges.
With playing numbers at Kingsgrove declining he tapped into his former life as a politician who was voted into power on the basis of being a ‘local who listened’.
He initiated a recruitment campaign that he says was akin to an election campaign, hat required pounding the pavement and engaging with people.
“Schools are the obvious place to start,” he said. “You start young [because if] children are taught the right values and the right moral and legal code there’s a better chance they’ll grow up being adults who’ll make a contribution to their community, their state and country.
“The younger you start the more chance you have of success in any aspect of life, and cricket is a language that is spoken across all divides. I’ve found regardless of religion, colour, race and background there is a commonality and it is cricket and it opened doors.
“We started with the Multicultural into Cricket program and we quite deliberately targeted children from non-English speaking backgrounds. We started in winter and ran three centres in Riverwood, Hurstville and Kingsgrove. We undertook programs in the schools during the week and these three centres were [used] on a Saturday.
“We tripled the size of the club! We went from seven or eight junior teams [in 2010-11] and hit 20 teams in 2012-13.”
The former Premier, who has says guiding his under 14’s representative team to a junior title was on a par with winning an election, said “being active” was the key to the revitalisation of both his club and the love for cricket in his local community.
“It wasn’t just good enough to send emails or drop a pamphlet off and wait for people to contact us.
“Yes, we had to do that but we had to sustain our recruitment. I personally went to schools and spoke to the principals and sports masters and asked if we could establish Milos’, a cricket NSW program called School Heroes and do school programs.
“I deliberately took a message into our schools that had a heavy proportion of students from non-English speaking backgrounds. We had to diversify and we had to engage.
“We had one Into Cricket [winter] program running where we had 127 registrations from children of 20 different nationalities.
“We [realised we] couldn’t rely on traditional areas sustaining us in the future. We deliberately had to broaden the base of the cultural background of our club; we had to embrace the new communities that had moved into St George and Canterbury.
“We had to take our message to them and not moan and groan that kids were no longer interested in cricket or the games were too long – all of the reasons we’ve heard.
“We had to take a positive approach and say if kids of the traditional Anglo background aren’t coming through we need to identify new markets and areas.
“We certainly didn’t ignore children from an Anglo background and what we’ve found is those kids are just as hungry to play cricket as they were 20 years ago.
“Energy and activism has allowed us to turn it around. In one fell swoop we became the biggest club in our area. It has tripled in size and we’ve discovered not only do you increase your numbers but you also get new volunteers.
“Now, we have parents who’ve rediscovered cricket; dads who played 30-years-ago. We actually rekindled the interest and the connection for a lot of dads who played cricket but drifted away.”
Iemma stressed the quantity of players hadn’t affected the quality of talent, proudly pointing out Kingsgrove has won a swag of premierships over the last few seasons while a large number of its players are regularly named in St George’s representative team.
Iemma said if club struggling for numbers could take anything from his story as a volunteer it is they can rebuild.
“Just remember “hopeless” is a word that shouldn’t exist in your vocabulary,” he said. “It just doesn’t exist.”