AFL launches venture to boost experience for disabled fans

Featured image credit: Maple Community Services

The Australian Football League (AFL) has entered into a wide-ranging partnership with disability service provider Maple Community Services which aims to champion inclusivity within the game and enhance the matchday experience.

Maple has signed on as the official NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) support service partner of the AFL and women’s league the AFLW for the next three years.

In an Australian first, the partnership will see an elite sport and NDIS service partner provide training and education to clubs nationwide to assist in inclusivity. This includes physical sessions and access for clubs to host open days for people with a disability, providing expertise and equipment to facilitate.

Maple Community Services will also support the AFL’s disability and inclusion programs with 25 wheelchairs each year and support the Toyota National Inclusion Carnival. Staff at the AFL-owned and operated Marvel Stadium will benefit from the collaboration through training and education modules provided by Maple Service’s experts, enhancing their practical skills to assist individuals with disabilities.

The centrepiece of the collaboration is the innovative Game Day Buddy Program, designed to enhance the matchday experience for all attendees. Each participant will be paired with a dedicated Maple Support Worker, who offers personalised support and companionship throughout a game.

The program aims to ensure that every aspect of attending a game—from navigating the venue to engaging with the action—is accessible, enjoyable, and stress-free.

By 2026, the AFL and Maple are targeting having 1,000 Game Day Buddy attendees signed up to the programme, along with Marvel Stadium to be transformed and formally recognised as Australia’s most inclusive venue. The two parties aim to grant all attendees to AFL games at Marvel Stadium the opportunity to experience inclusive forms of the League.

Maple will host a series of interactive inclusion activities at a handful of AFL games throughout the 2024 season, all designed around the different inclusive forms of AFL.

AFL executive general manager of inclusion and social policy, Tanya Hosch, said: “We welcome Maple Community Services as we continue our efforts to become more accessible for all people living with disabilities. The partnership will help us dismantle barriers, address stereotypes, and forge a brighter future for people with disabilities in the football community.”

CEO of Maple Community Services, Irshad Mulla, added: “Our shared vision is to create a more inclusive sporting landscape where every individual feels valued and empowered to participate. Together, we aim to make a positive difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities through the transformative power of sport.”