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Million dollar donation to break down barriers

A $1million donation from Moose Toys will kick off Deakin University research that is set to break down the barriers that limit thousands of children from access to sports.

The funding will be invested in opening up opportunities for the many thousands of Australian children who are affected by a developmental challenge, such as autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, language disorders, intellectual disabilities, and genetic conditions that often means they are excluded from playing sport.

In a world-first, researchers with the Deakin Child Study Centre have partnered with the Australian Football League (AFL) to undertake research that will determine if playing football can improve the developmental, physical and mental health of children with developmental challenges.

Professor Nicole Rinehart, Director of the Deakin Child Study Centre, said the generous donation from Moose Toys will enable the project team to gather the evidence to show how and why being involved in sport, a cornerstone of Australian culture, is important for all children regardless of ability. 

“It is well documented that team sports and physical activity are protective factors for children and have long lasting benefits to health. Yet access to sport is not a level playing field in Australia. Parents of children with disabilities are still receiving advice along the lines of ‘your child will never be able to play team sports, perhaps pick a solitary sport’,” Professor Rinehart said.

“Thanks to the generous support of Moose Toys we aim to break down the barriers that prevent some children from being included in sports. This will have an enormous impact on our community where disability is associated with disadvantage, low expectations, exclusions, obesity, poor school attendance and poor mental health. 

“With the evidence we gather it is possible that in the near future clinicians will prescribe team sports as a key intervention for children diagnosed with a developmental challenge. This will be a real game changer for Australian sport.” 

Moose Toys Marketing Director Belinda Gruebner said they were proud to support a program that aligned with their vision. 

“Our vision at Moose Toys is to ‘make children happy’ and this perfectly aligns with the exciting program Deakin and the AFL are undertaking,” Ms Gruebner said. 

“We are very proud to support this world first initiative and are highly motivated by the results of the research positively impacting children in Australia and internationally.” 

The ALLPlay program will kick off next month with a national survey. The survey will capture the voice and lived experience of children, parents, and coaches from around Australia and set the scene for the co-design of the ALLPlay toolkit that will provide resources for all children, coaches and parents for all sports.

At the end of the four-year program the researchers will have an internationally significant research database that includes neurobehavioural, genetic, physical, psychological and social measures from the Australian population of children with developmental challenge, with representation from every corner of the country.

AFL General Manager of Game and Market Development Simon Lethlean said the AFL was excited to partner with the Deakin Child Study Centre to help support the inclusion of all children in Australian Football regardless of ability. 

“A critical role of the AFL is to promote inclusion and diversity in Australian Football. When it comes to people with a disability this means having programs to not only promote and enable participation in the sport, but programs to raise awareness across the community,” Mr Lethlean said. 

“One in five Australian children will have a developmental challenge ranging from a minor to a major difficulty and it’s important that our activities and programs are accessible to everyone. 

“The AFL is continuing to building a culture of inclusion throughout Australian Football and we look forward to working closely with the Deakin Child Study Centre to break down the barriers to include children with disabilities.”

AllPlay is a national project to enable children of all abilities access to sport. The project is led by Deakin University in partnership with the AFL and research collaborators at Charles Darwin University, Perth’s Telethon Institute and the University of Melbourne.