In 2018 Disability Sport & Recreation (DSR) partnered with AFL Victoria to expand the sport of AFL Wheelchair in Victoria with the first ever state-wide AFL wheelchair competition in Australia – the Robert Rose Foundation Victorian Wheelchair Football League (VWFL).
The league focused on promoting social inclusion, to give more Victorians with disability access to the benefits of physical activity and was open to people of all genders aged 14 and over including people with and without disability.
AFL Victoria and DSR approached all 10 Victorian AFL clubs to collaborate with the VWFL to showcase inclusive sport with five teams signing on – Collingwood, Essendon, Hawthorn, Richmond and St Kilda.
Features of the program were:
Evidence shows that sport participation rates for people with disability in Australia are consistently lower than any other population group. In a survey of more than 1,900 people with disability, the Australian Sports Commission identified that a lack of integrated sport and recreation programs was a major barrier.
Based on a successful previous partnership between DSR, Rugby Victoria and four rugby union clubs for Victorian wheelchair rugby, a formal partnership between DSR, AFL Victoria and five AFL clubs was established to expand the sport of AFL Wheelchair providing more opportunities for people with disability to access this fully inclusive sport.
From humble beginnings of approximately 20 players in the sport, initial targets were for 40 participants to be playing in the inaugural season. An expression of interest survey to play in the competition was circulated to potential players complemented by facilitated open skills sessions and by the time the league launched in May, 60 participants had registered interest in playing.
The final result was a 200% participant increase in total numbers playing the sport indicating significant support for an all inclusive multi gender/multi ability sport.
While the reporting period for the award is to June 2018, the numbers of registered interested participants continued to grow with over 90 players registered by the end of the season.
With a strong encouragement for females to be accepted into the sport with each team encouraged to draft a female to play, female participation for the sport increased from 0 participants to 7 participants as a key component of delivering what could be considered “the most inclusive sport” available to the community.
Throughout the season, feedback was collected from team captains and other key stakeholders to help refine the league.
Surveys will be issued out post season to measure changes in participants’ outcomes with many indications already received during the season describing lives being significantly transformed as a result of participation in the sport.