BRISBANE, Australia -- David Pocock didn’t sound too concerned over the phone from the Australian capital of Canberra, despite it being more than two weeks since the country’s federal election and the retired rugby star still didn’t know if had a new day job in politics.
A standout backrower in international rugby from 2008 to 2019, he was waiting patiently for the call which would confirm whether he could officially be called Senator David Pocock.
“It’s taking a while, but I’m confident we’ll hear something this week,” Pocock told The Associated Press. “I think about 90% of the votes are in.”
He had to wait just a bit longer — the confirmation came through on Tuesday, more than three weeks after the May 21 election.
“We’ve officially made history! Thank you all," Pocock said in a tweet. “What a huge honor to be able to serve the people of the ACT as a senator."
The 34-year-old Pocock became one of two senators to represent the Australian Capital Territory that includes Canberra for a three-year term. And that makes him one of 76 senators in the upper house of Australia's Parliament.
More importantly, Pocock’s win took a seat from the former ruling conservative Liberal Party and broke a duopoly the major parties had on ACT Senate seats. Campaigning on many of the issues backed by independent politicians in the lower house, Pocock could on some issues be the critical 39th seat the Australian Labor Party, which won the general election, needs to pass legislation.
The career change isn’t really a surprise — social justice and the environment were two of Pocock’s causes when he still played rugby -- 78 test matches for Australia, including three World Cups and a stint as Wallabies captain, and more than 130 matches in Super Rugby. He also played for three seasons for the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan before announcing his retirement in October 2020.
Pocock wasn’t afraid to let his activism show even while he was playing. In 2014, while contracted to the Canberra-based Brumbies in Super Rugby, he was arrested after chaining himself to an excavator to protest against a coal mine being opened in a state forest.
“I would be doing this regardless of what career I had,” Pocock told media when he was arrested. “It is part of being a human being and taking on the challenges we face as a society."
Pocock’s charge was dismissed several months later and no conviction was recorded. But the sport's national governing body issued him with a warning.
So his transition to politics as an independent senator should be fairly seamless, although he says it’s not as if he feels politics is unfinished business for him.
“No, not at all,” Pocock says. “When I retired from rugby I felt it was time to move on and contribute in other areas. I was asked by a number of people in Canberra, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities that Australia gave me, I see this as another way of contributing now that my rugby days are over.”
Pocock was born in South Africa but moved to Zimbabwe at an early age and first played rugby there at the age of 12. His family migrated to Australia in 2002 when he was a teenager, but he hasn’t forgotten his southern Africa roots -- one of of his charities, Eightytwenty Vision, helps impoverished people in Zimbabwe.
He has supported same-sex marriage in Australia. He and his partner Emma, who was arrested with Pocock in the coal mine protest, held a marriage ceremony in 2010, but they had refused to sign documents that would result in their legal marriage until their gay friends had the same legal rights. After Australia enacted legislation to allow same-sex marriage in 2017, Emma and David Pocock made their marriage official in 2018.
Pocock said one of his first actions as senator would be a bill on territory rights, giving the ACT's Legislative Assembly the right to legislate on matters including voluntary assisted dying. Australia's six states already have the right to make such legislation.
“The vast majority of people in the ACT support this; I think it’s overdue,” he said. “It makes no sense in 2022 that the Territory doesn’t have the same rights as states. This is about not treating Australians who live in the territories as second-class citizens.”
Pocock says his rugby-playing days have helped prepare him for life as a politician.
“I think there are a bunch of things that transfer over . . . you don’t choose who is in your team, there are a lot of people from different backgrounds and belief systems and political persuasions,” Pocock said. “You are there united by a common goal and you forge strong bonds and realize we have so much more in common than your differences.”
“And of course you’re really putting yourself out there," he added, "but most people appreciate the risk you're taking.”
Pocock joins some other sports stars who entered the world of politics, including Manny Pacquiao, the world champion boxer turned senator in the Philippines, and Imran Khan, who led Pakistan's cricket team to an unlikely World Cup title in 1992 and later became the country's prime minister for nearly four years.
But Pocock says there is one big difference between sports and politics.
“The criticism can be on another level when you play sport, but you get criticized, you have a good game and it goes away,” Pocock says. “In politics you are always going to be criticized. It comes with the job.”
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