MediStays Pledge1%: Victorian FIDA Football League

Bridget Bisset MediStays Content Writer Headshot
Peter Ryan founder of the Victorian FIDA football leage on right at a club night, with an inclusive footy player on the left receiving an award certificate.

Supporting Inclusive Footy with Football Integration and Development Association (FIDA)

As you may have read in our blog post with Angel Flight, MediStays is committed to the Pledge1% framework. This means we have pledged 1% of our profits to supporting charities and organisations that do amazing work for the communities MediStays also serves. In the future, we will build on this model and Pledge1% of staff time and other resources.

Meet the Victorian FIDA Football League. FIDA stands for Football Integration Development Association. Essentially, this organisation works to make the game of footy inclusive and accessible to everyone. We sat down and had a chat with the founder Peter Ryan. Everything was covered, from how FIDA came to be and what they are up to now.

FIDA’s story is an epic one. So much so that we couldn’t keep it to just one blog post! Here we are sharing how the Pledge1% partnership will support the future development of FIDA. And you can read even more about their amazing players and initiatives over on this blog post.

A brief history of Victorian FIDA Football League

FIDA was founded over 30 years ago by Peter Ryan. He was working as a teacher in a special school. A lover of footy, he also worked part-time recruiting at the Hawthorn Football Club. One day he was asked to bring the two together: by running a football clinic for people living with an intellectual disability.

The clinic was a hit. The Hawthorn City Council noticed the value, and supported Peter to run further clinics.

By 1991, FIDA teams were playing matches. Fast forward to today, and FIDA is made up of over 800 players. Their teams are connected with 28 football clubs in Victoria.

Inclusivity is at the heart of what FIDA does. And not just for footy. Peter utilised his experience teaching at special schools to continue the growth and education of FIDA players. Footy is the key avenue for this.

Throughout FIDA’s 28 clubs, presentation nights are regularly hosted for players. Topics cover everything from budgeting skills to trying new hobbies. Social interaction and building confidence happen as a valuable and intentional ‘by-product’.

Why is community participation so important in Australia?


Community participation is the key to empowering and enriching people’s lives.

Thankfully, in Australia, National Disability Services (NDS) developed the Community Inclusion Initiative to “help inform the provision of community participation support under the NDIS”. The National Disability Services website states that this initiative “is included in 50 per cent of all plans for NDIS participants, making it the second most funded support”.

While accessibility means ensuring an open door, inclusivity is inviting and guiding people through it.

It is often overlooked that approximately 3% of people in Victoria alone are living with an intellectual impairment. This shows how people from this group are relevant to every community. And it drives home the importance of inclusivity.

All members of our society need to have some experience and understanding of people living with an intellectual impairment. By creating further opportunities for this, we can all better support and connect with the intellectually impaired in our communities.

And as we can see with the progress of FIDA, Peter’s passion for working in this space has only increased over the years. Overall, Peter says his biggest gain is a much more well-rounded view and understanding of people living with an intellectual impairment.

Expanding our understanding and interactions together is absolutely at the heart of inclusivity work.

Addressing challenges for intellectual disability

Through Peter’s experience at special schools, he knows that intellectual impairments often come alongside physical impairments and other medical issues.

So Peter says that to have a service like MediStays supporting this full spectrum of needs is fantastic.

Removing geographical barriers to access to care and support is one of the key drivers of MediStays health accommodation platform.

Growing up rurally himself, Peter knows that if you had a medical issue, getting access to treatment often brought up challenges. And there are many people with intellectual impairments who are also Australians living in rural and regional areas.

Geographical barriers to healthcare access bring an additional layer of complexities and challenges. Unfortunately, people living with intellectual disability may not have the experience or support to navigate these. So Peter acknowledges that having a dedicated service like MediStays for them to be referred to is so important.

Common goals for MediStays and Victorian FIDA Football League

Both Peter and MediStays Managing Director, Sarah Everitt, see a clear crossover between the support and services they provide. Most importantly, in the benefits for the communities served by both parties.

MediStays’ Pledge1% commitment to FIDA goes beyond just financial support. Both organisations see the benefits of utilising the MediStays platform and staff time towards the fantastic work the FIDA is doing.

Accessibility is at the heart of what MediStays does. And a big part of Peter’s inclusivity mission is making footy accessible to all.

Geographical barriers don’t just reduce healthcare access. These same barriers can also negatively impact participation in social and leisure activities. All amplified complexities and challenges can hinder people with an intellectual impairment from accessing team sports and clubs.

So Peter sees working together with MediStays to reach these people will be a huge asset to both parties.

Expanding FIDA’s geographical reach

Currently FIDA is based in Melbourne and has expanded further and further outwards into Victoria.

But FIDA players also play interstate games.

Peter says that “right back at FIDA’s start, 30 years ago, South Australia also had a similar program”. While they don’t quite have the numbers that FIDA does (being a less populated area), they also are still going strong!

Around 8 years ago both programs naturally progressed toward trying to form some kind of national program. FIDA decided then to make this one of their big goals.Together, both programs really pushed to make things progress.

This led to interstate games and competitions taking place between players from programs in NSW, SA & VIC. For a few years, these few programs made it happen all under their own steam.

Then in a massive leap forward, the AFL took over the running of it! Peter was stoked about that, as it took away a huge chunk of responsibility from the organising side of things. It allowed each state program to focus on what they did best: supporting and growing their teams.

Fast forward to today, and there are teams from every Australian state participating. Thinking back to their initial goal, Peter couldn’t be happier with this result!

While some states don’t have their own programs for competition, they all have programs for encouraging participation. Which is great, because in the end that’s what this movement is all about.

There have been some other really fantastic innovations, including the National Carnival.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been able to take place the last couple of years due to the pandemic. However, Peter is pretty confident they will get something ready for this year (stay tuned for further announcements!).

A large part of coordinating inclusive footy teams, games and competitions comes down to logistics! This is especially true when it comes to interstate travel. It relies on managing the needs of a complex variety of intellectual impairments, sometimes alongside physical impairments.

Utilising MediStays Pledge1% commitment to FIDA

For FIDA, Peter says the MediStays Pledge1% partnership will help with both short and long term goals.

At present, MediStays’ financial support will be pooled with FIDA’s other partners and NDIS sponsors.

Part of this will be sharing resources like experience and knowledge. The common thread between FIDA and all of its partners is the support of Australians living with an intellectual impairment, including participants of the NDIS.

There is one primary goal for the development of FIDA right now, which is to hire a part time person to help get the word for FIDA out there. This will be a dedicated role to develop all of the partnership relationships. This will ensure both parties get the most benefit out of the relationship.

FIDA has a full-time General Manager, but most of her time is taken up with the actual running of the program. So thus far, most of the promotion and partnerships for FIDA have been managed by Peter.

To have a dedicated staff member concentrating solely on the promotion of FIDA will be really effective. But it will also develop relationships with the many other organisations catering to people with an intellectual disability. That would be the greatest benefit that Peter envisions for this role and any sort of funding, sponsorship and donations that FIDA receives.

Overall, Peter and FIDA’s number one priority is that they are doing the best they possibly can for their players as people. Peter says that any financial contributions will be used to the best of their ability for the benefit of the players.

The magic wand for social inclusion

We asked Peter: if he had a magic wand to make footy more inclusive in Australia, what would he do?

Peter says:

Over the past 30 years, FIDA has generated some great press coverage (going on ABC Radio’s Coodabeens Footy Show was definitely one of them). However, considering that it has been 30 years, I see there are still so many people that don’t know about what we do. For me, this is really disappointing. So with a magic wand, I would get as much helpful media coverage and articles about FIDA and their players’ stories as possible.

In the footy world, FIDA has had good contacts with the AFL and their affiliated clubs. And FIDA’s work has been great for AFL players to know there is a footy program for people living with an intellectual impairment.

Having everyone know about inclusive footy and making it more accessible than ever, is the biggest challenge facing FIDA right now. It’s what MediStays’ Pledge1% resources will go towards.

Growing the number of teams and competitions means more opportunities and personal growth for players to experience. The more potential players there are, the more people can access the sport and the community it creates. Essentially, this comes down to more people knowing of inclusive footy programs from FIDA and around Australia.

The MediStays team is glad to play a part towards this, and to share FIDA’s story here on the blog for our community.

FIDA repledge: Goals for 2023 and beyond

Since introducing FIDA as a MediStays Pledge Partner, MediStays had the honour of supporting the 2022 FIDA Footy Grand Final. Both the footy players and spectators had a great time. And being a contributing member for their team clearly had a positive impact on players! The MediStays Cup was a great celebration of the players’ hard work and training.

To help keep this positive momentum going, we have renewed our pledge to FIDA for this year.

There have also been many significant changes on FIDA’s side of things, including the appointment of new CEO, Mary Pozzobon.

As we welcome Mary onboard with our repledged partnership, we also invited her to comment on FIDA’s evolving goals and challenges.

In the last twelve months, FIDA completed their first full season post-COVID! This has been a huge milestone, with all-abilities clubs pulling together to regroup and retrain their players. This of course had its challenges due to the prolonged homestay period in Victoria, but the payoff was worth it.

Players from different clubs came together to play in the National Carnival in 2022. It was an amazing highlight for all players, organisers and supporters! It created the opportunity for clubs and players to start linking as a FIDA representative team.

2023 has kicked off to a good start, showing a greater strength and skill improvement due to the continued active sports during the off-season.

These hard-won achievements are paying off by raising the profile of FIDA as a professional league that helps to support those with an intellectual impairment. And FIDA is still very keen to keep promoting the sport to attract more and more players!

CEO of FIDA, Mary Pozzobon says:

“Ideally, we would like to encourage volunteers from outside our current FIDA community to participate. To both understand what FIDA stands for, and how important it is for all players with an intellectual disability. This year we have taken on a focus of player safety. The pledge from MediStays will help to support these key messages, enable resources to be developed and support respect for all – on and off the field.”

There can be a big learning curve for new players, which can create certain challenges for families and organisers.

Thankfully, there are supports available to access within a NDIS plan to support players during practices, games and transport. It can also be used to pay for uniforms and sports equipment. MediStays STA Accommodation Packages can also be accessed for travelling to away games, such as the National Carnival or MediStays Cup!

Accessing NDIS for sport and STA is also a great opportunity for participants of the NDIS to get involved with sports all year round, and other new activities that align with their personal goals.

About MediStays Pledge1% Commitment

MediStays committed to the Pledge1% movement in 2021. Determined to establish a philanthropic culture right from the outset, we are committing a minimum of 1% of our financial profits to charities and organisations that also support the communities we serve.

You can read how our first Pledge1% recipient, Angel Flight, is making the most of our contribution in this blog post.

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Bridget Bisset MediStays Content Writer Headshot
Bridget Bisset
MediStays Content Writer
As MediStays Content Writer, Bridget curates informative and relevant content about MediStays for the communities we serve.
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