Q&A with Garry West-Bail

In our upcoming Q&A session, we had the pleasure of catching up with Gary West-Bail, Integrity and Project Manager here at ASAPD. With an impressive career spanning over 30 years in sports management at various levels—ranging from clubs to state and national platforms, including AFL, hockey, and multi-sports—Gary brings a wealth of expertise to the table.

His involvement in change management has been instrumental in fostering an environment of sustainable success, guided by a strong sense of vision, culture, and ethos, all supported by essential governance principles. In addition to his role at ASAPD, he is the Project Manager at Deaf Sports Australia. Gary demonstrates a deep commitment to providing inclusive sporting opportunities for individuals with disability, embodying a passion for creating welcoming and accessible environments for all Australians.

Moreover, his active engagement with the ASC Volunteer Coalition highlights his profound understanding of the crucial role that volunteers play at the grassroots level of sports organisations, ensuring their continued viability and success.

Thank you for joining us today, Garry. Can you share some insights into your extensive career in sports administration and what initially sparked your interest in this field?

I’ve always been drawn to the dynamic combination of athletic achievement and the various challenges that came with it. My initial interest in this field was driven by my own experiences, playing high-level sport in my early years, creating a natural transition into the world of sports management.

It was in my mid-30s that I made the decision to leave an international forwarding career to pursue a path in sports management. Fast forward over three decades, I’ve gathered a wealth of experience in senior sports management roles, spanning clubs, states and the national level; including my involvement with St Kilda Football Club (AFL), Hockey Queensland and Deaf Sports Australia. On top of that I hold degrees in Transport Economics, Accounting, along with Masters’ studies in Sports Law.

Beyond my professional endeavours, I’m an active participant in various volunteer roles within the sporting community too. Ranging from involvement with AFL clubs to contributing to the Queensland Olympic Council and local footy clubs, it’s all about my dedication to the growth and wellbeing of sports at all levels.

As the Project and Integrity Manager at ASAPD, could you highlight some of the key initiatives or projects you are currently involved in and how these will contribute to the advancement of disability sports within Australia?

We have several exciting initiatives that we are currently focusing on. Some include:

  • Enhancing the visibility and recognition of ASAPD through strategic branding and messaging with the aim to be a unified voice for all sports, all disabilities.
  • Creating a more accessible website that is both informative and navigable for all users. We aim to provide a hub of information, resources and updates that will foster engagement and participation within the disability sports community.
  • Continuous collaboration with key partners to develop education modules that will enrich understanding and awareness of disability sports.
  • The refinement of the ASAPD business model, ensuring its viability and alignment is in line with our organisational goals.

You are also the Project Manager at Deaf Sports Australia. With the 2024 Deaf Games coming up next year could you share your thoughts on the significance of these games for both the deaf community and the broader disability sports community? How do you anticipate these games will impact the visibility and recognition of deaf athletes?

It’s worth noting that In 2024, we’re celebrating 60 years of the first Australian Deaf Games in the current format, building on a legacy dating back to 1880 when the first inter-state competition took place. We are also celebrating 70 years since Deaf Sports Australia was formally recognised. These efforts collectively drive inclusivity and excellence in Australian deaf sports.

As with previous Games, 2024 will hold profound importance not only for the deaf community but also for the broader disability sports community. It’s a powerful platform for establishing lasting legacies that extend beyond the event itself.

To me, these Games are more than just a competition; they’re a means to amplify the voices and talents of participants. By providing a stage for athletes to be both seen and recognised, the 2024 Deaf Games will not only showcase their skills, but also highlight strong team ethos, and celebrate the passion that drives them to excel.

Participation, dedication and skill, will serve as an inspiration to others while challenging misconceptions about the capabilities of individuals with hearing impairments. Ultimately, the 2024 Deaf Games will not only elevate the deaf community’s standing within the world of sports but also contribute to a broader cultural shift towards inclusivity, diversity, and a greater appreciation for the achievements of all athletes, regardless of their abilities.

Within your current roles, what standout moments or initiatives are you most proud of?

There are several standout moments and initiatives that I’m particularly proud of. One of these is the evolution of the Inclusion Alliance, a collaborative effort between Blind Sports Australia, Deaf Sports Australia, and Sport Inclusion Australia. This alliance operated alongside the development of the ASAPD entity, and I’m pleased to have played a role in its growth.

Another is my involvement in supporting the establishment of ASAPD. From its early stages, I’ve had the privilege to contribute to shaping the entity and laying a solid foundation for its operations. It’s been an incredible journey, witnessing the growth of a new organisation committed to promoting inclusivity and excellence in disability sports.

On top of that, managing and providing support to the 2024 Australian Deaf Games Organising Committee since its inception in mid-2018 has been a significant accomplishment. Finally, collaborating with governments and cities to determine the host for the 2026 ADG are also highlights.

You are a strong advocate for volunteering in sport. What motivated you to join the Australian Sports Commission’s Sports Volunteer Coalition?

My motivation to join the Australian Sports Commission’s Sports Volunteer Coalition was to represent ASAPD and to ensure people with a disability are seen and heard in the sporting landscape. Additionally, it was an opportunity to contribute to the development of a cohesive plan to support a strong volunteer ethos, enriching their experiences and sense of self-worth.

With a background in coordinating and collaborating with volunteers throughout my professional journey, which includes overseeing various state, national and international hockey events, as well as three Australian Deaf Games, I understand the invaluable contributions that volunteers make to the success of sporting endeavours. This advocacy resonated with my mission to create an environment where all individuals, regardless of their abilities, are empowered to participate and thrive in sports.

How do you believe this coalition can contribute to ensuring that individuals with a disability are visible within the sporting landscape, and what role does volunteering play in achieving this goal?

I firmly believe that this coalition has the power to break down barriers and challenge stereotypes associated with disabilities by reinforcing the notion that sports serve as a vehicle for personal growth, confidence building, and self-empowerment. I also believe it can play a transformative role in ensuring that individuals with a disability are recognised in not only sport, but society in general.

Volunteering plays a pivotal role in achieving this goal. It not only facilitates the practical aspects of sporting events but also cultivates an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere. Through volunteering, people from diverse backgrounds unite, promoting understanding and respect. This collaborative spirit dispels misconceptions and empowers individuals with a disability to actively participate and excel, ultimately reshaping the narrative of disability in sports.

Looking ahead to the future, what developments or trends do you find most exciting or promising in the field of disability sports? How do you envision these advancements shaping the landscape for athletes with a disability?

The growing understanding, acceptance, and normalisation of inclusive thinking and actions that encompass the entire community. It’s incredibly encouraging to witness the widespread belief in the message and stories that advocate for sports as a transformative opportunity for all individuals to engage and reap benefits from participation.

This shift in perspective holds the potential to reshape the landscape of disability sports. As inclusive practices become more embedded, we can anticipate greater opportunities and engagement in sports across all abilities. Recognising the unique value that athletes with a disability contribute to the sports will elevate the sports experience for all.

If someone were to ask you for advice on where to start in making a more inclusive environment, where would you direct them? Are there specific resources you recommend they explore?

I would direct them to the ASAPD website. There, they can explore a range of toolkits, videos, and education modules. Engaging with these resources can enhance their understanding and belief in our person-first philosophy, serving as a solid starting point for promoting inclusivity.

Fast five: Top food, top book, top destination, top person, top tip

  • Food – anything from SE Asia in particular Vietnamese
  • Book – Saigon by Anthony Grey
  • Destination(s) – Vietnam, Laos and Mayrhofen in Austria
  • Person – grandparents for their different insight and support – both real and subliminally
  • Top Tip – How many directions does a river flow – two – from where the river has come and where the river is going to – at the confluence of these two directions you can see the bottom of the river and see where you are.

Inclusive School Sports in Australia

Picture this: a school ground buzzing with activity, where students of all abilities come together to play, learn, and grow. Inclusive school sports are not just an option; they’re an integral part of our sporting and education landscape.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and Disability Standards for Education 2005 aims to ensure that students with disability have the same rights as their peers.
The Standards seek to ensure students with disability can access and participate in  education and training on the same basis as students without disability. Meaning that all schools must provide opportunities and choices that cater for all abilities.

Here we will shed light on the misconceptions surrounding inclusive sports while showcasing the remarkable impact of inclusivity in both education and sports.

# 1: Inclusion is Too Challenging

Misconception: Some believe that including students with disability in sports is logistically or physically too challenging.

Truth: Inclusion is achievable and beneficial with proper planning, adaptations, and support. Here at ASAPD we have witnessed numerous stories of determination and success, where schools and organisations across Australia have demonstrated how they’ve overcome challenges to make inclusive sports a reality.

According to ASAPD Integrity and Project Manager, Garry West-Bail, these positive experiences are “moving, enlightening and educational and provide an insight into the available participation pathways, and how students with a disability can be part of the school sports program.”

Through the utilisation of adaptive equipment, supportive coaching, and teamwork, students with disability have not only participated but excelled in various sporting activities. It’s inspiring stories like these that illustrate the true potential of inclusive sports programs.

# 2: One Size Fits All

Misconception: There’s a belief that inclusive sports require a single approach for all disabilities.

Truth: Inclusive sports celebrate diversity by tailoring activities to accommodate individual needs and abilities. Whether it’s modifying the rules of a game, offering a range of sporting options, or providing one-on-one support, the key lies in flexibility. From visually impaired athletes participating in goalball to wheelchair basketball players showcasing their skills, adaptive approaches ensure that every student can find their niche in the sporting world. Through customisation, inclusivity ensures that no one is left behind.

# 3: Separate is Equal

Misconception: The idea that separate sports programs for students with disability are acceptable and can hinder inclusion efforts.

Truth: Inclusive sports programs are essential for breaking down barriers and promoting social integration. They enable students of all abilities to learn and interact with each other, fostering empathy, understanding, and friendships. By allowing everyone to participate side by side, inclusive sports not only promote physical health but also contribute to a harmonious and inclusive society, where differences are celebrated rather than segregated.

# 4: Limited Benefits for Students with Disability

Misconception: Some doubt the benefits of sports for students with disability.

Truth: As stated by Clearinghouse for Sport, various Australian and International research has shown that inclusive sports programs have a profoundly positive impact on people with disability. Beyond the physical health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular fitness and motor skills development, participation in sports boosts self-esteem and self-confidence. Moreover, students with disability often develop essential social skills, such as teamwork, communication, and leadership, through their involvement in inclusive sports. These experiences contribute to a well-rounded education that will extend far beyond the classroom.

Inclusive school sports are not just an option; they are an opportunity for positive change and growth, benefiting all students, regardless of their ability.

If you’re interested in learning more about the diverse options, benefits, and impacts of sports and physical activities, as well as how you can actively support students with disability to participate in their communities, build their capacities, and achieve their goals, we invite you to join our course, ‘Including Students with Disability in School Sport.’ Sign up today by clicking here.