Football for All: How the STAF grant helped BFL rise in popularity

State Trustees Australia Foundation (STAF) has a long history of supporting causes that positively impact the community.

In 2020, STAF awarded a Community Inclusion grant of $25,000 to support Scope’s ‘Football for All’ project aimed at expanding its highly successful Balloon Football League (BFL) across new locations.

Balloon Football was created by Scope over 20 years ago to provide people with multiple and complex disabilities the opportunity to engage in meaningful and competitive sport.

Matt Carrick, then CEO of State Trustees said while announcing the grant, “Scope’s Balloon Football, a modified version of AFL played on a basketball court using wheelchairs and a large balloon, is a fabulous way to encourage social participation for people with disability. We are excited to be part of its expansion into new areas.”

While the original objective behind the funding was to create a model for scalable and sustainable BFL competitions across the nation, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in most community activities being suspended for two years.

This significantly impacted the football league’s expected roll-out and project schedule. Though unlike most parts of the country, Northern Territory did not experience similar lockdown restrictions and public health challenges.

BFL - NT5In February 2021, Scope partnered with Disability Sports Northern Territory to conduct a pilot program to understand how to support the Balloon Football League program interstate.

The results were very encouraging, with 14-16 players participating in a competition that culminated in a Grand Final event held in June 2021.

The success of this program highlighted the interstate appetite for BFL. Going forward, Scope will continue to support this relationship in partnership with Disability Sports Northern Territory and Clubhouse Territory.

In April 2022, Balloon Football returned to Victoria with a renewed push to expand into unexplored regions. The funding provided by STAF helped Scope with the purchase of modified sporting equipment, uniforms and other useful resources for participants in new BFL competitions in North-East Melbourne, East Melbourne and Brimbank.

During 2021 and 2022, 97 players participated in BFL games assisted by 25 volunteers. These games were played at seven new locations in Victoria and Northern Territory in keeping with the grant’s mission of making BFL popular across new regions.

The ‘Football for All’ project has proven be to a real game-changer. Thanks to the generous grant awarded by STAF, there is now a better understanding on how to support new players and fans to grow the Balloon Football League into a national sport.