Social sport has the power to bring people together and create an incredible sense of belonging through being a part of a club. A new program is breaking down the barriers which have previously stopped many people with disabilities from accessing this experience in its entirety, with hope that more sports will take on the mission to become more inclusive.
The Flagstaff Group has announced the launch of its Inclusive Teams Program that aims to train clubs within the Illawarra to support people with disabilities to access ‘mainstream’ sporting opportunities.
“It’s all about knocking down silos and instead of having a sporting activity that is designed purely for people with disabilities, this is a truly inclusive way of having people being able to engage and also take away any stigma that people with a disability may have to experience,” Flagstaff CEO Rodney von Clark said.
The organisation has already partnered with Vikings Rugby Club to trial the program.
Together they’ve created a non-contact version of rugby to make it more accessible, with a team made up of people with and without disabilities.
“It’s important for the participants from both sides, it makes us one and that’s the way it should be,” Vikings president Spiro Lozenkovski said.
“I don’t like when sports are only for abled or only for disabled – being inclusive is something that brings us all together.”
And club members are keen to get involved and be part of the experience.
“The amount of responses I’ve received from grade players, first grade players, second grade players, mums and dads, women and girls who all want to participate, it’s incredible; everyone wants to be a part of the whole picture, really,” Spiro said.
But as much as the experience is about the health benefits of being involved in physical activities, the social and emotional impacts are proving to be just as important.
“It’s given all the people that have engaged in the trial a feeling of belonging,” Rodney said. “So it’s not just about participating in sport, they actually feel a sense of belonging with the Vikings Rugby Club and the club has been really welcoming and they really share those values of inclusive sport.”
Now they’re hoping to expand the program even further in the new year, to help run a complete competition and give players the opportunity to be a part of different clubs.
“In January we really want to encourage more people to reach out to either Flagstaff Group or to Vikings so we can get the inclusive competition for all abilities up and running and to go from strength to strength,” Rodney said.
“I’ve spoken to a number of other clubs in our competition and they’re all 100 per cent for it,” Spiro said.
“Hopefully during the season we’ll start playing against other clubs and build a competition out of it for the following season that will be played on a regular basis just like any competition game.”
And they’re not stopping with rugby.
“We see the potential, and we’re already looking at basketball. We’re also going to be starting another pilot at the beginning of the year with tennis,” Rodney said. “We’re looking at basically opening it up, so the goal is to have them engage in any sport that they desire.”