Wheelchair AFL is a sport that welcomes everyone, regardless of gender, age or ability. It is a fast‑paced and exciting game that showcases the skills and talents of people with disability.
This November, the 2023 Toyota Wheelchair AFL National Championships will take
place in Victoria. It will feature teams from all over Australia. The event will also host
the first ever all-women’s wheelchair AFL (AFLW) game, a milestone for the sport and
its female participants.
'Disability wheelchair team sports have often been a male-dominated group,' said Ayden Shaw, General Manager of Disability Sports Australia. 'Part of the showcase is to show that there’s a pathway for women to participate in the great sport.'
Trajectory of the sport
In Australia, the sport officially began in 2015 when the Australian Defence Force, Disability Sports Australia and AFL worked together to organise the first Wheelchair Aussie Rules Carnival.
Since then, the sport has grown rapidly, with local competitions established in nearly every state and territory. Today, anyone can participate at the community level, regardless of gender, age or skill level.
The Wheelchair Aussie Rules Carnival has now progressed to be known as the Toyota Wheelchair AFL National Championships, the pinnacle event for the sport.
Ayden Shaw said he hoped to see the sport continue to develop and expand, with more programs and opportunities for people with different types of disability to get involved.
The 2023 Victorian Wheelchair Football League
In Victoria there are 5 AFL clubs who align with the Victorian Wheelchair Football League (VWFL) – Collingwood, Essendon, Hawthorn, Richmond and Saint Kilda. Each of these clubs takes part in 2 divisions, the Seniors and the Community league.
The Community league is entry-level; it’s open to everyone. The Seniors league is very competitive and highly skilled.
The Seniors league Grand Final was on 17 September 2023 between Richmond and Hawthorn.
The Richmond side included Teisha Shadwell, following her 'Best On Ground' performance in the 2022 Grand Final. In the first half of this year, she was in the USA competing in wheelchair basketball. 'She's a star,' said Austen Krueger, a commentator for AFL Victoria.
Joanna Argaet led the Hawthorn team as their coach and captain. She began playing wheelchair AFL for Hawthorn 6 years ago when the VWFL first began. This year, she took her team to the top of the ladder before the finals.
The winner of the 2023 Grand Final was Hawthorn, in their first ever Grand Final victory. They will face teams from other states and territories in the National Championships.
The wheelchair AFLW showcase game
The 2023 Toyota Wheelchair AFL National Championships will be held at the State Netball and Hockey Centre in Victoria from 2 – 5 November, between 9 am and 4:30 pm each day.
It’s free to attend in person. You can also watch the events on Kayo.
The wheelchair AFLW showcase game will be held during the Championships, with current players in the VWFL participating – including Shadwell and Argaet. The game will also feature an all-female commentary team.
How people with disability can get involved in the AFL
The AFL Blind league has recently commenced, and there are opportunities to get involved with Victoria’s Football Integration Development Association (FIDA), who aim to give people with intellectual disability the opportunity to play AFL in a safe and inclusive environment.
You can visit the AFL’s website for information about the AFL’s disability programs.
All images courtesy of Disability Sport Australia, credit to Nerissa Byrne Photography.