Tuesday October 5 Leisure Networks and AFL Barwon had the honour of being named Sport and Recreation Victoria Sport Initiative of the Year at the Disability Sport & Recreation Awards. This prized accolade was awarded to the two organisations in recognition of their work in establishing and facilitating the AFL Barwon Inclusion Leage.
Over 100 players of different abilities, ages and genders have been involved in the inaugural 2023 season of the AFL Barwon Inclusion Leage, which has given so many people living with disability the lifetime first experience of getting on the field as part of a team.
“I am quite humble about this,” said Luke Maher, Program Coordinator at Leisure Networks. “It has been a collective effort, with so many people and organisations we need to thank for contributing to our success last night Including all the team here at Leisure Networks. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the group we work with here are truly amazing!”
Edward Wilson – Regional General Manager, AFL Barwon said of the night: “This awards night shows us that there are a phenomenal amount of people throughout the community who do so much work to make impact. That’s what we want to do, is create as much equitable opportunity and there’s a lot more to do. That’s what our partnership with Leisure Networks is all about, in creating the Inclusion League, to find opportunities for people in the Barwon region – in football and in netball.”
The AFL Barwon Inclusion Leage is the culmination of over five years commitment from Leisure Networks to develop opportunities for people living with disability to choose how they participate in AFL.
Luke Maher explained: “I remember sitting down in mid 2017 with a couple of the guys from Bell Park footy club, Tim Downes and myself. I was wearing a different hat back then, and Tim was wearing my hat. We sat down with a vision of being able to provide football opportunities for people living with disability, and what progressed was the Geelong Dragons. There were some amazing contributions from the clubs. Jai Smith and Luke Massey filmed it to produce the Be Dragons TV series that ran for two seasons.
“At the start of last year when I saw all these players, trying to fit into two teams to play in the FIDA competition in Melbourne, I just had to think that we could extend this out to the wider community. We could give more access to more players, and that’s pretty much what has happened with the support of AFL Barwon.
“The next step is to sit back down again with AFL Barwon and see where we can move to next and how we can extend this over the coming years, to more clubs and more players.”