The sport of Touch Football will become more inclusive than ever, with Touch Football Australia (TFA) now delivering Touch Football Specialised, an inclusion program that makes Touch Football accessible to people with intellectual impairments.

Touch Football Specialised (TFS) was developed independently from TFA by Founder and President Graeme Clancy, who wanted to make his sport of choice accessible to everyone. TFA has now brought TFS in-house to resource the program so that it can be delivered more broadly, on a national scale, and Clancy, as TFA’s newly appointed National Inclusion Manager, will manage it.

Clancy, a Special Education Teacher and elite Touch Football athlete who played for the Gold Coast Titans in the NRL Touch Premiership, started the TFS program when some of his students asked if they could play Touch Football like him. “I searched for opportunities for them but wasn’t able to find anything that matched their needs, so I decided to create something,” he said.

“We modified the rules and field sizes. It started with just six students at my school. Now we hold the Queensland Special Education State Championships, which attract more than 300 participants from schools across the Gold Coast, Ipswich, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.”

Now, seven years on, the program also provides opportunities for individuals with intellectual impairments to be involved in Touch Football and Rugby League in areas other than playing, including refereeing, volunteering at tournaments, team management assistance and work experience.

Clancy, who has been playing Touch since age 11, has noticed the sport and the program having huge positive impacts on participants. “Being part of teams is something that many of us take for granted – for others, it’s not as easy as just signing up. So TFS gives people the chance to experience being part of a team, have fun in a social environment, make new friends and take part in a healthy activity,” he said.

“Sport is also a great way to help people understand the importance of following rules, listening to others and helping your friends. I’ve noticed growth in athletes’ confidence – not only in their physical ability, but in their ability to connect with others. It’s wonderful to see some athletes and their families, who have previously lived quite isolated lives, find lasting friendships with their teammates.”

Photo: Murray Wilkinson / ENERGY IMAGES

Clancy is a Gold Coast resident, and through TFS has been working closely with the Gold Coast Titans NRL club who have been supportive of the inclusion program since its inception. He will be based at the Titans’ club.

TFA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Mitchell said the organisation is thrilled to have Clancy on board to run TFS across the country. “Graeme has done a fantastic job building a large community of participants whose lives the TFS program has helped enhance through sport, and we’re very keen to provide further resourcing to Graeme and the program to provide a place on the field for everyone, all throughout Australia.

“Touch Football is a very accessible sport, in general. Males and females can play together, almost half of the sport’s participants nationally are female, it can be played from ages five to 75, it comes with a low risk of injury, and the rules are easily modifiable depending on player age and ability. So it’s always been a sport that everyone can have a go at, and now with TFA running Touch Football Specialised, it really will become a sport for all.”

Clancy is looking forward to broadening the scope of TFS nationally. “The Touch Football community is amazing, it’s really embraced TFS and our athletes, and I’m looking forward to working with even more people around Australia to provide environments where individuals with special needs feel they are supported and can find a sense of belonging.”