GiveToLocal: When can wheelchair football players in England expect to return to action?
WFA: Government guidance permitted the return of indoor sporting activities from March 29 so we’re up and running.
GiveToLocal: How safe will it be for players to return to action?
WFA: By following FA and WFA guidance — and taking care — we’re confident that a return to action will be extremely safe.
GiveToLocal: How much of a challenge has it been for The WFA to prepare for a return to sport following a year of unprecedented disruption?
WFA: It's been a challenge for The WFA just as it has been for other sports and NGBs. Our challenge is a little greater in that we use solely indoor facilities so our sport is affected by the nature of being in an indoor environment. Then we have the additional consideration of the high level of physical disability and health needs that our community has.
GiveToLocal: How much enthusiasm is there for a return to wheelchair football across the country?
WFA: There’s widespread enthusiasm to return to activity. More than 12 months away has seen a reaffirmation of the community's passion for the game.
GiveToLocal: Are you concerned that there will be a drop off in numbers of players compared to pre-pandemic numbers or do you anticipate an increased demand to play wheelchair football?
WFA: We're realistic. We understand and expect playing numbers to be slow to return as confidence returns to our members. However, we remain confident that numbers will return and we’re determined to increase those numbers through continuing our work to develop the game in areas of the country where there is no current provision.
GiveToLocal: How have you been communicating with WFA members during the last 12 months?
WFA: We’ve used a variety of means to connect with our clubs, players, coaches and families. We’ve provided different opportunities and activities so that our community can learn and develop as well as socialise with each other. Our focus has been on supporting the mental and physical wellbeing of our community and ensuring that our members retain avenues to communicate and socialise on a wider level.
GiveToLocal: Can you describe some of the toughest challenges your members have faced during the last 12 months?
WFA: Having to shield for 12 months, due to the nature of their disabilities, has been extremely tough on many members of the wheelchair football community. Our players are all classed as vulnerable and extremely critically vulnerable in the majority of cases. Football plays such a huge part in their lives and it’s a social, as well as a sporting, experience. Many of our members have not seen their friends for a very long time.
GiveToLocal: As a governing body what are the toughest challenges (beyond the return to sport) that the WFA has faced since March 2020?
WFA: Working to ensure we can try to engage with the community as much as possible, the uncertainty of when competition can return/what it may look like and how we can shape our delivery to support what a 'new normal' will be.
GiveToLocal: How has wheelchair football in England been supported by additional/emergency funding during the last 12 months?
WFA: We received support from Sport England towards our competition costs and through The National Lottery to enable us to deliver a variety of online workshops and activities to engage different elements of the community.
GiveToLocal: Do you anticipate a shortfall in income across the board and the need for clubs and their members/volunteers to raise additional funds during the next few weeks and months?
WFA: I think it would be prudent for all clubs to explore raising additional funds over the weeks and months ahead. Potential costs of replacement equipment due to inactivity can have a large impact on club finances so it makes sense for clubs to be proactive in their fundraising efforts.
GiveToLocal: How can an organisation like GiveToLocal help wheelchair football clubs and their members to look forward to a bright future?
WFA: Through making great connections on a local level and by raising awareness of the sport and the members involved. Whilst the game continues to grow we still aim to raise awareness of the sport on local and national levels. GTL can play a great role in supporting our clubs to do so and, in turn, positively contribute towards their income generation and long-term sustainability.
GiveToLocal: Is the future bright for wheelchair football in England?
WFA: Yes, absolutely. We've used this time away from activity to build on other areas and have delivered activity providing an insight into sports psychology, physiology and coaching. We've also established a new WFA website and are working on some exciting coach development plans alongside our wider sport and business development aims.