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Q&A with ASAPD CEO, Dr Phil Hamdorf

We are thrilled to introduce Phil Hamdorf, PhD GAICD, our inaugural Chief Executive Officer here at the Australian Sporting Alliance for People with a Disability (ASAPD).

With a career spanning three decades in health, sports, and public administration, Dr. Hamdorf brings a wealth of experience and expertise to this pivotal role.

Having held prestigious leadership and advisory positions within government sport portfolios, he has also served as the President of Exercise and Sports Science Australia and Sports Medicine Australia SA.

Thank you for joining us, Phil. Can you please share a brief overview of your career and the story of how you became involved in the disability sporting sector? We’d love to hear about your journey and what motivated you to bring your expertise and passion to the cause of promoting sports for individuals with disabilities.

I began my professional journey as a trainee nurse at the Strathmont Centre in Adelaide, a government-operated facility that offered specialised services, housing, and training for individuals with intellectual disabilities. This marked my initial exposure to the world of disability. Following this, I pursued my education degrees.

After a brief teaching stint, I transitioned to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where I dedicated over two decades to the Department of Geriatric and Rehabilitation Medicine. During my tenure, I established the Centre for Physical Activity in Ageing, which provided a wide array of clinical, preventive health, and research programs tailored for older individuals, many of whom grappled with varying degrees of disability, primarily stemming from orthopaedic and neurological conditions.

Subsequently, I embarked on a new phase of my career within the South Australian public sector as the head of the agency responsible for sport and recreation. This move prompted my family to relocate to Sydney, where I assumed various senior executive positions within the sport sector.

Most recently, I have taken on roles on several boards across the sport and leisure sector in Australia. Throughout my career, my strong ties to sport have remained steadfast, making it a natural progression to utilise my expertise in promoting sport and enhancing participation for individuals living with disability.

Congratulations on your recent appointment as the inaugural CEO here at the Australian Sporting Alliance for People with a Disability (ASAPD)! What motivated you to take on this leadership role within ASAPD?

I found motivation in numerous opportunities that I believed could enhance and encourage involvement in sport and physical activity among individuals living with disability. ASAPD essentially serves as an ‘umbrella’ organisation that advocates for the interests of NSODs (National Sporting Organisations for People with Disability), and I saw this as an intriguing test of my abilities as a collaborator and facilitator.

As CEO, can you also share some initial thoughts and plans for advancing our mission and goals?

ASAPD faces a substantial task ahead to ensure the ongoing backing and collaboration of its constituent NSODs. ASAPD should focus its efforts in areas where there is no redundancy with member organisations, often referred to as the ‘white space.’ Specifically, it is imperative for ASAPD to foster collaborative initiatives in fields such as education, research and shared services. Furthermore, ASAPD must take a more proactive role in raising political and commercial awareness regarding the benefits of empowering individuals living with disability.

With your experience in exercise science, preventive health, and leadership roles in different organisations, can you tell us how health and disability sports are connected? Also, how do you plan to use these principles to improve the fitness, health, and well-being of people with disabilities through sports programs?

The advantages of raising one’s physical activity level are identical for individuals, whether they have a disability or not. The physical, psychological, social and mental health enhancements achieved through increased physical activity, particularly through sports, are valuable for everyone, regardless of their level of impairment. In fact, it could be argued that physical inactivity has more significant repercussions for individuals living with disability, making their participation in physical activity and sport even more meaningful and valuable. Although the methods of involving people living with disability may vary, the potential positive influence on their lives remains the same.

From your perspective, why is it crucial to have collaborative efforts among organisations and stakeholders in promoting disability sports and creating opportunities for individuals with disability, impairment or limitation to participate and thrive in sports?

Australia is fortunate to have a multitude of organisations offering sport programs and opportunities for individuals living with disability. While this expands options for consumers, it can also lead to discord and intensified competition for limited resources. Therefore, enhanced cooperation and collaborative initiatives are essential to reduce redundancy and optimise the utilisation of scarce resources.

As Chair of the Board at Skate Australia, how is the organisation actively enhancing inclusivity and accessibility? What unique experiences and strategies have you seen or implemented in this regard?

Skate Australia has been actively engaged in various initiatives. We recently brought in a specialist resource to conduct a comprehensive analysis, with a specific focus on gender equity, to identify opportunities for improving the environment for female skate coaches within skateboarding structures. Additionally, we have just formulated a Gender Equity Action Plan.

Our involvement extends to supporting local community organisations in advancing all-abilities activities and equipment through active representation and collaborative efforts.

Furthermore, we have participated in a mapping project aimed at identifying deficiencies in access to skateparks and skate facilities. This project will serve as a valuable resource for communities by providing a comprehensive overview of skateboarding options throughout Australia. Moreover, it will offer crucial guidance to councils and state governments in their efforts to make these facilities as safe and inclusive as possible.

As a member of the Project Steering Group for the nation’s first codesigned National Sport Participation Strategy Project, can you share some of the key objectives or initiatives that you and your group are currently working on to enhance sport participation?

Being part of the Project Steering Group for this initiative has been a tremendous privilege. While the strategy is still under development, it is poised to embody innovative methods and fresh perspectives in the administration of our conventional sporting codes. The emphasis will be on ensuring inclusivity in sport for all and recognising the significance of enjoyment and a sense of belonging. The group is focussing on several key principles, including equal access, lifelong engagement and a cultural shift. I am optimistic that this strategy will be both groundbreaking and audacious in its mission and determination to boost participation in sport.

Aside from your current roles and responsibilities, are there any other exciting plans or initiatives that you are currently working on or looking forward to in the future?

My son, who is an experienced builder, is constructing a new residence for my wife and I in Adelaide. It’s a thrilling but somewhat overwhelming endeavour for us, as we’ve never been involved in home construction before. Having to make a wide array of choices, such as wall finishes, colour schemes, placement of power outlets, solar systems, door styles, and more, is quite unfamiliar to us, as we’ve always purchased pre-existing homes.

Fast five: 

Top food – Seafood risotto

Top book – ‘Blood, Sweat & Steel’ by Curtis McGrath – an excellent read!!

Top destination – Noosaville, Queensland

Top person – Barack Obama

Top tip – I like the Confucius quote “He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”