Respect, inclusion and encouragement are the key messages Claire Falls wants to bring alive at the FEVER Footballathon on Sunday, 3rd April at Wanniassa.
The 13-year-old promising footballer began an inspirational journey after being diagnosed with a condition three years ago that affects her vision; she now sees things in two dimensions, rather than three, and has limited peripheral vision.
Rather than wallow in her own problems, and as an aspiring and passionate footballer, Falls saw an opportunity to help others with similar circumstances to achieve their dreams too. There was a gap in the market.
“I was looking at different things and I found that there isn’t much in sport for people who have a disability or low vision. I wanted to be able to do something and make effect on the community, something that anyone could participate in,” said Falls.
The FEVER Footballathon is all about inclusion for people of “all abilities”. The annual tournament is in it’s third year with a focus to raise awareness of disability inclusion in football. It’s open to anyone who wants to play, regardless of skill, age, or ability. FEVER is a number of modified community football games that occur throughout the day.
FEVER has one primary rule: If any player on the pitch needs the game modified for their needs, it will be.
“It’s about including anyone, doesn’t matter who they are,” Falls said.
Fall’s tenacious approach to helping others went next level last year. She petitioned then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and other politicians to reinstate the funding for Australia's Paralympic soccer team. FFA boss David Gallop praised her for her efforts.
At the time, Gallop said: "I would like to thank all the supporters of the Pararoos, and in particular the efforts of young Claire Falls from the ACT, who signed petitions, contacted media organisations and made representations to elected members of parliament in championing the cause during the difficult times.”
While the federal government didn't come on board, Falls not only managed to save the Pararoos, but there's also plans for Paralympic women's and youth teams as well.
And the Pararoos are grateful, already registered for FEVER is Pararoos Head Coach Kai Lammert and players Ben Roach and Cameron Gudgeon.
Her passion for change and promoting inclusion in football has led to speaking opportunities across the country. In May last year, she spoke at sport's growth and diversity conference in Adelaide, and then a women's leadership conference the following month in Canberra. And, Asian Cup boss Michael Brown made her an ambassador for the tournament after hearing her speak, in Australia earlier this year.
“It’s about educating people and what they should do [to help],’ Falls said.
“FEVER is for everyone, for people that do or don’t have a disability. It’s something that people have participated in and they found it really encouraging. They’ve come up to me and said it’s a great thing,” she said.
“I think everyone that has come to FEVER has got out of it that they should respect, include and encourage others so I think that’s a good thing.
“That’s what I wanted to achieve out of, it and I have achieved it,” Falls said.
In her sixth season of soccer, Falls’ personal success in football is an inspiration unto itself. She first used an audible ball on the field so she could still play the game she is passionate about with low vision. But, using her tenacious approach to everything, she was determined to become a better player, and play like everyone else, in line with her football dreams.
“My goal is to be the best footballer I can be so hopefully one day I will be playing for Canberra united or the Matildas but also learning more skills and being able to help others."
“I was using an audible ball for about a year and I said to myself that I wanted to be able to play normal football without having to make any extra changes. I know some people can’t do that but I found that people helped me to do be able to do change the way I learn things,” Falls said.
Starting out as a division three junior, Falls now plays up several age-groups, the Under 16’s women’s and the WPL Under 18’s. She’s also been part of the national premier league program. Impressive stuff.
Falls has become a celebrated and well-know person in football, and this year Zela are proud supporters of the FEVER Footballathon and encourage more people to register for what will be a great day of football.
Our own Lucy Zelic is a huge fan, and had this to say about FEVER Footballathon and the maturity of Claire beyond her years:
“The FEVER Footballathon is all about giving everyone an equal opportunity to experience the magic of football. Not only is it about raising awareness for those with a disability but it’s about connecting people from all over who share the same love and passion for the beautiful game. Growing up, I always appreciated the sense of community that football provided and I truly believe that Claire has captured the essence of that through her initiative with the FEVER Footballathon.
“Claire is an enormously inspiring individual and it’s through her attitude towards life that she is able to encourage others to adopt her view of never giving up. With low vision, Claire continues to play the game she loves and sets new boundaries in the process. For someone of such a young age to show such resilience and determination is truly remarkable and Claire is an example to all of us that no matter what cards we’ve been dealt in life, we can find ways to accommodate our situations and motivate others in the process.
“It’s a great thing to be a part of because the beauty of this event is that it’s open to everyone of all ages, capabilities and backgrounds. It’s so important to celebrate our differences but also come together and appreciate our shared love for football. FEVER aims to provide an environment that is free from discrimination, worry or fear and it promises to be an enriching and fun experience for all. What more could you want! Team Zela are beyond proud to support such an uplifting event and hope that this year’s third event is just the first of many more to come,” Zelic said.
Lynne Anderson, CEO of the Paralympic Committee will be attending on the day and will be bringing along with her some Paralympic athletes, and says having them, along with the Pararoos in attendance will be a huge positive.
“Having the Pararoos there will be inspirational role-models and more importantly, evidence that there can be a pathway for them to pursue.
“In our organisation we’re advocating true diversity and inclusion so for us to have someone and another advocate in Claire going out there and preaching the same story, in football, the more awareness we get out there I have no doubt the disability and diversity equation will garner.
“I first met her and was blown away with her achievements, I was pretty impressed and I’d love to support anything that she wants to do,” Anderson said. “I think FEVER will be lots of fun, a fantastic celebration,” Anderson said.
“It’s a fantastic ripple effect that she’s giving; unbelievably committed, intelligent, engaged, it’s pretty special isn’t it at 13 (years old)”.
Other high profile registrations include:
- Yvette berry ACT minister for sports, women and inclusion
- Shane Rattenbury ACT minister for education
- Lynne Anderson CEO Australian Paralympic committee
- Deb Spillane ABC Grandstand
- Rio Paralympic triathletes Katy Kelly and Emily Tapp
- The FEVER Footballathon runs from 10:00 to 3:00, Sunday 3 April 2016
- Where: Tuggerong United Grounds
- Games: Half Field, 2 x 10 minute halves
- Cost: $5
Registration: FEVER – Football for EVERYONE Registration Page
Auctions will be run throughout the day with proceeds raised to support Capital Football’s Football Connect ‘All Abilities’ Program
- For registration enquiries contact Merryn Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org
- For general enquiries contact: email@example.com
- OR, on twitter @F_E_V_E_R
FEVER would like to thank Zela, the FFA, Capital Football and The Women's Game for their support.