A team of 16 football players from WA with Intellectual Disabilities are competing in the National Inclusion Carnival in Queensland, this July.
Community TAB of Racing and Wagering WA (RWWA), is a sponsor of the WA team to support them in the week-long event of AFL, against every other state in the country, culminating with Finals and selection of the All Australian Team.
The players are chosen from the West Australian Amateur Football League (WAAFL) Integrated Football Program which was launched seven years ago following several WAAFL clubs who identified a need for people with intellectual disabilities who wanted to participate in their local club.
By 2016 Integrated Football had grown to include seven teams, and a further two clubs have begun their journey with skill based activities in 2017.
WA entered its first ever State Football Team for people with Intellectual Disabilities in 2015 when Integrated Football launched the State Program.
WAAFL Integrated Football Program Co-Ordinator Greg Gilbee said it means the world to the players to be a part of the State Integrated Team.
“It is recognition of their terrific character, personal values, commitment and application. The players understand they are representing the clubs who nominated them, the Program and the wider community, so selection comes with a great deal of pride and responsibility,” Mr Gilbee said.
“Having Community TAB as a sponsor helps to raise our profile in the Community, provides a wonderful opportunity for partnership where everybody wins, and the Community TAB brand is well known and respected for the work being done in the WA Community, so the Integrated Program is just so grateful.
“Yes the footy is great but it goes way deeper, it actually changes people’s lives and it doesn’t get any more significant than that.”
The Selection Process for the State Team is multi-faceted. Clubs are asked to nominate players they believe are of good character, possessing above average skills and are mid to high functioning. Nominated players then form the High Performance Academy and undergo an intensive core training program.
Mr Gilbee says during his time as Co-Ordinator he has seen many great stories unfold.
“We have players from all walks of life, many of whom had no social network, living in isolation, without family or positive role models. We embrace everyone and above all of this it’s the Clubs that make it happen,” he said.
“The people at local Football Clubs are all volunteers who watch over their players, provide a sense of purpose, somewhere to belong and are proud to have the Integrated Program at their club. It’s quite remarkable.
“At the end of the day our Integrated Footballers want the same opportunities afforded to mainstream Footballers, the chance to be the best they can be.”
Community TAB Manager Matthew Thomas said the connection between the Integrated Program and Community TAB was obvious.
“Community TAB has been a sponsor of the Wembley Integrated Football team since 2016, so when the opportunity to support the Program at a State level came about we were thrilled to further our support of the Program,” Mr Thomas said.
“We have seen how much the players and their support networks love being a part of the football community and can see how important achieving a place on the State Team is to these players.
“Community TAB contributes to many sporting and inclusion organisations such as the West Australian Football League, Riding for the Disabled and sporting bodies such as the WA Sports Federation.”
The WAAFL Integrated Football Program launched in 2010 thanks to funding from Racing and Wagering WA that was contributed to the Department of Sport and Recreation.
The 2017 AFL National Inclusion Carnival will take place from July 24 to July 30 in Queensland.