Inclusion in sports – Why it matters more than anything

In today’s society, flexibility is key.

As a journalist, it’s about being able to fulfill multiple roles such as commentary, writing, reporting, interviewing and so on.

As a soccer player, it’s about being able to play multiple positions when called upon, even if it’s a position you’re not comfortable with.

As an event manager, you need to ensure your patrons have access to your events, even if they are impaired in some way.

Take for example, the Australian Open. A worldwide event that attracts fans from all across the globe. Different types of fans flock to Melbourne Park every year to watch the best players in the world.

However, for some, getting to Melbourne Park and then watching stars like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and many more isn’t as seamless as it may seem.

Physical impairments, in the past, have restricted some fans’ ability to watch world class tennis live. To say it’s a shame puts it lightly, it’s downright unfair. Fans should be able to watch tennis live and enjoy it just like everyone else.

That’s why Tennis Australia acted, as well as Wheelchair Tennis champion and Australian Dylan Alcott. Alcott is the men’s wheelchair first seed and is a modern-day Australian tennis icon.

He is the co-founder of a company called Get Skilled Access which, in accordance with Tennis Australia, has made access to all grounds at Melbourne Park 10 times easier.

All stadiums have lifts that can easily take people up to their seats. All showcourts now have certain entrances that have ramps instead of stairs and designated seats for those with disabilities.

Even getting around Melbourne Park has been made easier with more signs directing those in need to where they specifically need to go.

Now, those with physical impairments can enjoy the tennis just as much as everyone else, which is fantastic and a great reward for effort by TA and especially Alcott.

In saying that, sometimes it’s not a physical impairment that limits the enjoyment of sporting fans.

Deafness and blindness affect millions of people worldwide and as unfair as physical impairments are, being able to listen and/or see is just as unjust.

The ability to hear and to ability to see are things in life we often take for granted. For some, they dream of the ability to one day, be able to see or hear. But now, measures are being taken to ensure that they can still enjoy sport, like everyone else.

As another example, there have been videos making the rounds recently of groups of two people at soccer venues with someone who is unable to see. Between these two people is a mini soccer pitch, most likely made from cardboard. Using the blind person’s hands, they place them at points on the mini soccer pitch and tell them who has the ball and what’s happening.

Combined with the atmosphere of the stadium and its fans, it allows for the blind men and women to still enjoy the game and the memorable moments to its fullest extent. It’s a beautiful thing to see, especially when these videos are taken during important moments of important matches (e.g. Champions League).

It’s more than just great to see these people being able to enjoy sport, but it’s just plain awesome to see people committing themselves to helping those in need. It’s not just a credit to them, it’s life affirming for anyone else.

In conclusion, anyone who is anyone should be able to enjoy sporting events the way anyone else could. Inclusion is the most important thing about sports. Ensuring that everyone is involved, and everyone is treated equally in this respect is critical. It’s all a part of why sport is so loved worldwide. It brings people together but most importantly, it brings the best out of people, on and off the field.

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Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

How the NPL can learn off the USL’s content deal with Footballco

The United Soccer League (USL) has launched a strategic content partnership with Footballco, a football media company, being designated as an “Official Content Partner of the USL.”

The company will showcase the league, which is the football pyramid separate to the franchised MLS in the US, through existing fan and player-led video content formats, original creatives, features and news.

Goal and Mundial will focus on the men’s divisions, while Indivisa will work on the soon-to-be-launched USL Super League and USL W League with a more lifestyle and community-led approach to its content.

Footballco is strategically aiming to expand in the US, with the next Men’s World Cup and Olympics taking place there, and a bid for the next Women’s World Cup possibly adding that to the mix.

USL Chief Marketing Officer Greg Lalas discussed the importance of fast-tracking the USL’s growth with the sport becoming more popular.

“The USL is the heartbeat of American soccer, and we are thrilled to partner with Footballco to help bring the story of our leagues and our clubs to new fans around the world,” Lalas explained in a USL released statement.

“Brands like Goal, Mundial, and Indivisa are massively influential in the global soccer community, and as we look to extend our reach both domestically and internationally, we were excited about the opportunity Footballco presents.

“Likewise, we look forward to supporting Footballco’s strategic expansion in the U.S. This really is a match made in soccer heaven.”

Jason Wagenheim, Footballco’s CEO, North America discussed the potential this deal has for both companies.

“The USL is among the most exciting soccer leagues in the United States. As we expand our U.S. footprint, we look forward to connecting at an entirely new level with the clubs, players and fans at the heart of the USL,” Wagenheim added in a statement.

“Our reporting goes beyond just news and scores to cover the intersection of soccer and lifestyle, and there’s a huge opportunity to put the USL at the centre of that storytelling – something we know our audience craves.”

There are a lot of similarities between the NPL and USL in terms of its place in the football pyramid of its respective country and attendance numbers, and whilst the funding is different, it begs the question, should the standard of NPL content be higher from the state federations and clubs?

NPL1 matches are currently being streamed on YouTube under the NPL.TV channel, with every game live and with commentary. There have been known issues in recent years with NPL.TV streaming on the now administrated Cluch TV and the absence of live games since had affected the pyramid.

After a return to YouTube in 2024, it’s good to see a healthy audience watching games live on a big platform but fan and club driven content is still so scarce.

Akin to the partnership between USL and Footballco, Australia’s state federations need to do more with website and social media content. Among all of the divisions in each state, there is plenty of opportunity for behind-the-scenes access, stadium news and promotion of big matches including derbies to draw interest to YouTube live streams.

The forward-thinking approach of the USL has provided the NPL with a good blueprint to expand the lower leagues and Australian Football pyramid.

It’s simple, providing the vast array of NPL fans with league-focused social media content on a popular social media channel like the state federation accounts and actively promote any signings, big club news or upcoming matches that fans could attend or watch on NPL.TV.

A lot of these suggestions aren’t particularly out of budget for the NPL, but rather are more of an effort-driven focus that can have a big impact on attendance, viewership and publicity.

FA Wales takes action with Facility & Investment Vision

The Football Association of Wales (FAW), in collaboration with the Cymru Football Foundation (CFF), released the Facility and Investment Vision to improve the national football experience.

In a report published on its website, FAW and the CFF provide a detailed, statistical overview of Wales’ current football facilities, demonstrating the need for more investment, and the positive impact this could have on Welsh communities.

Football is the largest participation team sport in Wales, reporting over 87,000 active players across 811 registered clubs.

Moreover, football participation is a huge driver within the Welsh economy. FAW reports that the current overall return from football participation is over £550 million ($1.07 billion AUD), split across social, economic, and health sectors.

The association believes that further investment into the sport will generate an additional £1 million ($1.9 million AUD).

At the elite level, the Welsh men’s national team has progressed significantly in the last 10 years, performing well in the past two European Championships, and qualifying for the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1958.

These achievements place a microscope on how the association maintains this success, but more importantly, how it can elevate pathways for juniors and women’s football.

The current situation

The statistics regarding current facilities in the FAW’s report illustrate a dire situation for Welsh football.

Pitch demand continually exceeds supply in Wales with a reported average number of five teams sharing one pitch, despite 60% of clubs advising a need for at least two pitches to operate effectively.

Pitch overuse explains why just 21% of Welsh football pitches are reported to be in “good” condition, whilst 1 in 5 games are cancelled due to wet weather and localised flooding. FAW believes these figures will increase if action is not taken now.

The delivery of artificial surfaces in the United Kingdom is the primary solution to combatting natural elements, yet, 54% of participants in a Welsh national survey state that access to those pitches is difficult.

Off the pitch, changerooms facilities are subject to similar negative feedback, with only 23% of participants saying their changerooms are in “good” condition.

This feedback takes on greater significance given the increased popularity of women’s football, and the subsequent need for more female-friendly changerooms.

A combination of poor pitch quality and changeroom facilities reduces an individual’s enjoyment in football, and this threatens participation and sustainability at all levels of the game.

Addressing the current situation

The purpose of the Facility and Investment Vision report is to show investors exactly what is required for football in Wales to move forward.

In particular, FAW has created a club model that uses the size of football clubs to determine the quantity of facilities required for them to run effectively.

To use an Australian comparison, an NPL club like Sydney Olympic would be considered large because it has over 20 teams at senior and junior level. Whereas a community club, that competes at amateur level (e.g Melbourne State Leagues), would be considered small.

 

The club model plan represents a smart and effective way to show potential investors what they can do for Welsh football.

 

Regarding current investment, the CFF has contributed over £9 million ($17.4 million AUD) as part of its mission to strengthen Welsh communities through football.

It is succeeding in its mission, with 98% of people reporting an improved experience when using facilities supported by the CFF.

FAW wants to improve its relationships with county councils and schools so that action plans can be drawn. This will help secure investment for better football facilities and smoother community access.

Objectives for the facilities vision

The overarching objective for FAW and CFF is to deliver a wider range of high-quality football facilities that stakeholders can access year-round.

The economic impact of future investment has been mentioned here already, but environmental sustainability is also at the forefront of the organisation’s plans.

FAW recognises the importance of future-proofing facilities to avoid early re-construction, thereby reducing its carbon footprint.

From an elite pathway perspective, FAW wants to build world-leading facilities to better support future generations of international players and coaches.

This goes beyond the provision of high-quality pitches and changerooms, with FAW insisting that technology, media, and commercial sectors must be improved.

FAW Chief Executive Noel Mooney explained the honest appraisal of football facilities in Wales is motivation for delivering a high-quality football experience.

“We know that facilities in Wales are not where they need to be, and this vision gives us a clear plan to bring facilities across Wales at all levels into the present day,” he told the FAW website.

Mooney elaborated further on the yearly target figure for investment, set by FAW and the CFF.

“We want to be able to invest at least £10 million a year into improving facilities in communities across Wales to bring them up to standard. This investment will continue to support the work that the Cymru Football Foundation is already doing and allow us to grow football in Wales on and off the pitch.

The Facility and Investment Vision demonstrates a commitment to Welsh football stakeholders by FAW and the CFF, and signifies an important moment in the future development of football in the country.

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