The debate over the decision not to allow Down syndrome player Marc Reichler-Stillhard to feature as a 12th player for his local football team is continuing on the north coast of Australia.
The 16-year-old had been given special dispensation by North Coast Football to play in a younger age group – Yamba under-14s – and his club had come to an informal arrangement with the other clubs in the competition to allow Marc onto the field as an extra player.
But a complaint from parents of a rival team, believed to be without the support of their club, has put an end to Marc’s involvement as a 12th player.
NCF has refused to relent on its decision to strictly enforce the rule despite pleas from local clubs, a Federal MP in parliament, a national newspaper columnist and local media.
Marc’s mother revealed at the weekend that her son played in Yamba under-14s’ most recent match against Westlawn, but only as one of 11 players in an 11 v 10 match instead of 12 v 11.
“It was great they allowed him to play,” she said. “But it was not the ideal situation.
“Westlawn did the right thing and played a man short, but it basically meant two people missed out on playing because of Marc.”
Last week the Member for Page, Kevin Hogan brought up Marc’s predicament in Federal Parliament.
NCF held a meeting with Football Federation Australia to discuss the issue but details have not so far been forthcoming.
Meanwhile, Down Syndrome Australia has refused to comment on specifics of the case and its CEO, Dr Ellen Skladzien, said that although the organisation had not spoken to the parties involved, it supports involving Down syndrome people in mainstream activities.
“People with a disability have a right to be included in our community just like everyone else,” she said.
“Many people with Down syndrome participate in community sporting groups alongside their friends and siblings.
“Participating in sport provides important social connections and opportunities for friendships.
“DSA strongly encourages sporting groups to be inclusive and support participation of people with disabilities.”
It can only be hoped that some sort of solution can be reached to allow Marc to play 12 v 11 matches in the sport he loves. Sport at youth level is all about inclusion and having fun and NCF’s strict enforcement of the rules seems to fly in the face of this.
A rethink is needed.