Shipperley helping eradicate homophobic language in Rugby

By Pete Fairbairn, 23.10.18

In March this year, Wallabies and Melbourne Rebels utility back Dom Shipperley was forced to call time on his Rugby career at the age of 27 as a result of continual serious injuries.

It was disappointing for so many fans of Shipperley, who watched him play 63 Super Rugby games, win a Super Rugby title with the Reds, debut for the Wallabies at just 21 and also represent Australia at Schoolboys, Under 20s and Rugby Sevens levels, for Shipperley it was something that he had seen coming for a little while after having such rotten luck with his body.

“I was definitely ready to move on when I announced my retirement,” he told RUPA. “I think I realised the year prior that there was a chance that if my rehab didn’t go to plan, that I would want to stop.

“I made sure I was prepared for that situation if it eventuated, as I didn’t want to be in a situation where I didn’t have the option to stop playing – I finished off my Uni, and started thinking about what I was going to do next. My family and my partner were extremely supportive the whole time, and my parents have always made sure I maintained the academic side of my life and that’s been a great framework for me to keep up when I left the family home and became an adult playing Rugby professionally.

“I definitely spoke to my partner a lot about the potential of retiring, even before my final injury, because she had obviously seen the frustration it was causing me and realised it wasn’t bringing me a lot of happiness.”

Shipperley completed a Bachelor of Commerce, Majoring in Finance, through the University of Queensland and a connection made through the Rugby network helped to present him with an opportunity to join one of the world’s largest Audit, tax and Advisory firms, KPMG, in July this year.

“I’m working in Management Consulting, and my specialised area is the delivery of transformational programs and the strategy behind them in businesses,” he explains.

“I played with Dallan Murphy at Brothers Rugby Club in Brisbane, at the Reds, and at the Rebels, and the opportunity at KPMG came about through his sister Briody. She was working there, saw a job that she made her think of me, and she sent through a job description, encouraged me to apply and put in a good word for me!

“I spend a lot of time at the client’s office, and recently I have been reviewing the performance of the client’s programs and engaging with their project members to see what we can find out about how their programs are running, across multiple industries.

“I think in terms of the content of what I’m surveying I’m still getting up to speed, but in terms of being able to engage with a wide range of people and form a relationship quickly my time in Rugby has aided that. There’s a big push for collaboration within different clients, and I’m trying to ensure they know that I want to slot straight in and work with them as part of their team while I’m there. It’s something I have encountered in Rugby, where you move Clubs and turn up at training with new people around you throughout your journey, so I’m trying to work on building something at a rapid pace and the learnings have been really good.”

Shipperley found himself surrounded by plenty of good support as he prepared to leave the Rebels and move into the next phase of his life.

“(Rebels Chairman) Paul Docherty introduced me to his colleague Pete Harris, and he put a lot of hours into me before I started at KPMG. While that didn’t turn into a job, I definitely appreciate the value that I got from that and he definitely played a critical role in helping me work out what I wanted to do next.

“There were also a few guys who I played with at the Club that provided great support for me. Some guys I didn’t even know that well until I spent quite a while in rehab with them, and they formed quite a good support network around me then, and they still check up on me which I appreciate.”

Life working in an office is very different to that of a full-time Rugby player, spending the majority of your time in an office and not having the pressure to maintain your fitness, and Shipperley has adjusted accordingly by being especially mindful of those differences.

“I always try to get outside at lunch time, which is a big one, if the weather is alright,” he laughs. “I went through a period of five or six months post-retirement where I didn’t go to the gym, which I think was actually necessary after training for the past ten or fifteen years. I have been trying to play golf once or twice a week which gives me the opportunity to get in the fresh air and keep fit, which you miss from playing footy.

“Thankfully, I’m back in the gym now, and it’s something that I do subconsciously identify with; exercising in some way, it helps me feel normal. I have also just enjoyed a normal weekend for the last six or seven months which I probably haven’t done since I was about five years old - I didn’t realise weekends were so long!”

By staying in Melbourne post-retirement, Dom has been able to remain close to his former teammates and involved within the city’s close-knit Rugby circles, albeit in a completely different way.

Dom, alongside Tom English, Sam Jeffries, Lachlan Mitchell and Jordy Reid, has been involved with a study through Monash University to develop and test the effects of an education program aimed at reducing the use of homophobic language in sport. 

“The study was put together as a research piece, and basically it identified that when there are high levels of inclusion within sport the participation levels go up and there is increased diversity, which leads to better results,” he explains. “Rugby was the first cab off the rank to engage with the study and basically we ran 20-25-minute workshops with boys aged thirteen to eighteen. The premise was that we would be able to come from a position of authority and expertise within Rugby.

"The real goal was to encourage the boys taking part to realise that Rugby is a very inclusive game and try to help them see that language or slurs, intentional or otherwise, can have a huge impact on people playing the game, and on participation levels and success of teams.

“The research is still being processed at the moment, but I was pleasantly surprised how receptive people were to the actual conversation. That is a credit to the people we did the workshops with, and the amount of thought behind the delivery of the workshop; we put in some really good planning sessions with the help of the researcher about how to build rapport with the audience and make them feel more comfortable before raising the actual topics. It was all constructed in a well-thought out manner and that helped us gather what we hope will be quality research.”

Shipperley is yet to decide how he will be involved in Rugby in 2019, including whether to pursue any coaching opportunities, but he’s looking forward to getting down to AAMI Park and cheering on the Rebels as they push for their first Super Ruby finals appearance.

“I will definitely keep going to Rebels games next year and hopefully they’ll give me a free ticket or two, and I’d like to get involved with the Rebels alumni as well.”

Would you like to connect with Dom Shipperley on LinkedIn? Click here.

Find out more about the study, and hear from current Rebel Tom English, via the Star Observer.

Pete Fairbairn
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