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NRL and AFL launch sensory rooms at some venues to connect with all fans

NRL and AFL launch sensory rooms at some venues to connect with all fans
May 1, 2019

Sensory rooms are now being either offered or trialled to fans of teams such as NRL’s West Tigers, and AFL’s Hawthorn, St Kilda and Geelong Football Clubs. The inclusive space caters to children and adults with sensory sensitivities and is designed to reduce the sensory overload that people with autism can experience, including screaming fans, crowd noise, sirens and loud music.

Fans with sensory sensitivity can now cheer on their favourite team thanks to the inclusive space with visitors having the opportunity to watch the game via separate big screens and TVs with reduced noise.

Last year, Easter Monday 2018 saw NRL's Wests Tigers partner with Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), one of the country’s largest service provider for people on the autism spectrum and WestConnex to launch the club’s first Autism Friendly Room at ANZ Stadium, providing a controlled space for children on the autism spectrum.

The Autism Friendly Room provided children on the autism spectrum, and their parents and carers, the ability to experience an NRL game, something they may not have been able to do otherwise.

As a part of a new agreement, Wests Tigers worked with Aspect to assist with fundraising and awareness campaigns, as well as providing exclusive opportunities for the organisation.

With all West Tiger home games now offer a sensory room, Brooke Cocks, Community Partnerships Manager with the Sydney Motorway Corporation explains “crowds and noise can be really overwhelming for children with autism.

“I am excited that as part of our community partnership we are able to offer a sensory room at all West Tiger home games having started at ANZ stadium.

“We have created a safe space for children to enjoy a footy game on a Sunday afternoon..

“Tigers are very active in the community. They run over 50 programs across west and south western Sydney and we’re thrilled to be partnered with them.”

Wests Tigers Foundation Manager Shaun Spence said that the club looked forward to working closely with Aspect, advising “it’s great to be able to partner with an organisation such as Aspect to assist them in building awareness and raising funds to support the great work that they do.

“On top of that we’re thrilled to be able to provide an experience that someone with autism may not otherwise be able to have with the Autism Friendly Room at ANZ Stadium.”

Aspect Chief Executive, Adrian Ford, said he was grateful to Wests Tigers for their support and welcomed the decision to provide Autism Friendly Rooms at the ANZ stadium at the Easter Monday game.

Ford commented “for an individual on the autism spectrum visiting many public places and events can be challenging, but by making just a few minor adjustments and providing an autism friendly space you open up a new world for these individuals and their families.

“Aspect believes all Australians, including those on the autism spectrum, should have the opportunity to access and be included in community events in a safe and meaningful way. We are looking forward to working with Wests Tigers on other opportunities to make Australia more autism friendly."

Comparable to the West Tiger’s initiative, AFL football clubs such as St Kilda, Hawthorn and Geelong have also set up sensory rooms at their home grounds with the AFL considering having sensory rooms set up at each club's home venue.

The AFL's Hawthorn Football Club recognised that a new space was needed for some of their special needs fans at home games and so partnered with The Australian Foundation for Disability (Afford), a registered charity that has been operating in Australia for over 65 years, providing a range of disability supports to thousands of people every day.

This year on World Autism Awareness Day (2nd April 2019), Hawthorn in partnership with Afford, celebrated the launch of the Afford Sensory Friendly Space, the first sensory friendly space available at Melbourne’s MCG. 

The room incorporates both calming and stimulating zones, a cocoon area for visitors to chill out and relax, bean bags, air cushions, cuddle balls, comfortable seating and a light wave floor. 

Hawthorn Chief Executive Justin Reeves said the Afford Sensory Friendly Space supported the club’s vision to be inclusive and welcoming place for people of all backgrounds: “The Afford Sensory Friendly Space is a fantastic opportunity for the club to promote inclusiveness, positivity and social change amongst the football community.

Reeves explained “we launched the room for the first time in Round 2 and it was fantastic to see families utilising the space and its offerings.”

Afford Chief Executive, Steven Herald, said the partnership with Hawthorn can provide more inclusive opportunities for people of all abilities and needs, stating "footy fans with sensory needs and their families may have previously stayed home to avoid over stimulation at the game due to loud noises and crowded areas.

"Now, they, and their families, can come and support their team in a space that caters to their sensory needs."

"Our partnership with the Hawks this year has presented many opportunities for us to provide new life experiences for people living with disability and sensory needs in Victoria. We are proud to be part of a genuine experience that supports inclusive opportunity for all."

St Kilda Football Club are trialling a sensory room for fans with special needs at its home ground. The room provides a safe and quiet environment for those with conditions such as autism to enjoy the game.

According to the ABC, the AFL is considering a plan to make it mandatory for all clubs to have a sensory room at their home grounds within the next few seasons.

An AFL spokesperson told the ABC, "the AFL recognises the importance of calming rooms at AFL games and is planning to include a state-of-the-art calming room as part of the Marvel Stadium upgrade.

"We will continue to work with all stakeholders to develop our strategy in other venues."

General Manager of Community at St Kilda, Lisa Laing, said the idea of installing a calming room in Docklands emerged after consultation with a number of specialist groups and the AFL.

The AFL gave up the space normally reserved for lucrative corporate functions.

"They came right on board with that," Laing told the ABC.

The Saints first trialled the quiet room initiative at their offices in Seaford, south of Melbourne, before they built a pop-up room inside the team's home venue at Docklands. Accessible for families to use on game day, the room is staffed and children must be accompanied by an adult in order to gain access to the specialised facility.

The club worked with several partners, including community organisation Amaze, to refine the best approach to help fans with special needs relax.

Amaze Chief Executive Fiona Sharkie said creating an inexpensive way for people with special needs, and their families, to enjoy sport on game day was an important obligation for modern day clubs.

Sharkie advised "one of the great things about the room is that it's inside the stadium.

"It's where the action is and families can come and go as they please."

St Kilda prides itself on being a community-minded club that has always been mindful of its diverse fan base.

Laing added "we are all about belonging and having as many people feel welcomed at our games and our club as we can.

St Kilda has successfully launched a number of other programs, including SaintsPlay, which encourages children with developmental challenges to play AFL.

It was this initiative that helped create awareness of the need to introduce a game day sensory room.

Laing concluded "we learnt from that program about the children and that some need an opportunity to have a timeout if things become overwhelming.

"The feedback from fans and members have been unbelievably positive, and they are so proud that the club has introduced this."

Images: West Tigers Sensory Room (top, courtesy of West Tigers) and St Kilda Sensory Room (below, courtesy of St Kilda FC).

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