Simon&James_2Holly Hammond talks with James Higgins and Simon Copland about how competitive sport helps them manage the stress of activism.

Can you tell us a bit about your work/activism/political involvement?

James Higgins: I’m currently campaigns officer for Green Senator Larissa Waters, a Greens member and a union member. In the past I was a Greens National Office employee during the 2010 election, a union organiser and very briefly a student politician.

Simon Copland: I work as a freelance writer, writing a blog and political articles for a range of other publications. I am the Brisbane city coordinator for and am heading to Turkey for Global Power Shift in June. I’m a Greens member and active in the QLD Greens for the upcoming Australian election.

You’re also some of the sportiest people I know – tell us what you’re playing these days.

JH: I play netball, roller derby and also referee derby. I go to the gym regularly too.

SC: I play rugby union, run and go to the gym every now and then. At the start of the year I gave orienteering a try, and want to get into that over summer when the rugby season is over. I used to play Ultimate Frisbee but stopped that when I got into rugby.

What do you like about the team sports you’re involved in?


Simon on the rugby field.

JH: I love the roller derby community: there’s a strong feminist streak as well as a commitment to running the league inclusively and democratically. The mixed team that I play with gets the balance right between competitiveness and having fun.

SC: Mostly I like the community it brings. There are lots of great people, and it is nice to have some contacts outside of activist circles. I play in a gay-friendly rugby team, so I get the team-sports without all the homophobia. I also love the exercise and stress relief.

JH: Also, I like the smashy!

I’m interested in how you deal with stress as you’ve both worked on very high intensity campaigns.

SC: I find that stress can lead to anxiety for me. I get caught in my head and stomach, and I tend to work harder to try and get rid of it (which is a bad strategy). When I’m anxious sport gets rid of that almost instantly and clears my head. It’s a good way to get out some aggression and angst.

JH: I get highly-strung, and if I don’t have time to exercise the stress out, I get anxious. I like the physicality of derby. I spend a lot of my time thinking and have always had brain-oriented hobbies. It’s nice to get out of my head and into my body for a while. I find stress easier to deal with on Tuesdays because I know I get to do smashy that evening.

Campaigns tend to mess with routine. Have you been able to stay involved in sport during those times?

JH: I have a pretty understanding boss, and have established strong “ring fences” around my weeknight sporting activities. But I’ve moderated my level of responsibility in the derby league, I didn’t take on position of responsibility in case I couldn’t be reliable.

SC: In the last federal election campaign, which was the most stressful one I’ve ever worked on, I wasn’t playing sport. But I have the full intention to keep it up over the course of this year. The thing about sport is that you have to commit to a team, so you can’t just pull out for a couple of months at a time.

So the group aspect increases commitment and accountability?

SC: For me it does. I used to try to go to the gym and do some running, but it was very easy to get out of that. I can’t do that with a team.


James in lead jammer mode (star on helmet).

You both play queer friendly sports now – has homophobia been a barrier to playing sport at other times?

SC: I wouldn’t have joined a non-queer friendly rugby team. We’ve had a couple of instances of other teams calling us ‘faggots’ on the field. But because we support each other it doesn’t exclude people from our team. I think a lot of our opposition teams also assume that we’re going to be weak or can’t play well because we’re gay. We then surprise them when we get on the field.

HH: Smashy!

SC: Exactly.

JH: I wouldn’t have considered playing a contact sport in a non-queer friendly environment. Because there are a lot of queer women in derby, the environment is good, but I have met only one other queer bro in derby in Australia.

How does sport fit with your relationship?

JH: Sometimes we don’t see each other much during the week because of training on different nights. Rugby training is Monday and Wednesday, and derby is Tuesday and Thursday.

SC: Before I started rugby James pestered me to do Roller Derby, but I didn’t want to play on the same competitive team with him. It’s good to have our separate sports that we can then share about, and go and watch.

JH: Plus I like the fact that Simon has rugby thighs.


Does sport help you thrive? Tell us about it in the comments below.  

Derby photo by Kristy Barker Photography