Building Inclusive Communities Through Sport

An Interview with Sport4All's National Manager, Mitch Gourley.

In the image, Mitch Gourley, a Caucasian male with brown hair, is looking directly at the camera. He is wearing a blue Sport4All shirt.

Discover how Sport4All is transforming local sports clubs and schools to be more inclusive for people with disability and promoting inclusive sport.

Sport4All is a pioneering initiative created through a collaboration between the Australian Government, the Australian Sports Commission, and Dylan Alcott’s consultancy, Get Skilled Access. This groundbreaking program aims to drive positive change in grassroots sports, ensuring inclusivity for everyone to enjoy the benefits of sport whenever, wherever, and however they choose.

Sport4All, a nationally acclaimed program, is dedicated to enhancing inclusivity in sports. It empowers local sporting clubs, schools, and communities to embrace diversity and create opportunities for people with disabilities. Created by Get Skilled Access, Sport4All is managed by people with disability and those with lived experiences of disability.

We recently interviewed Sport4All’s National Manager, Mitch Gourley, to gain deeper insights into the program and its progress since its launch.

About Mitch Gourley

An alpine skier in action, wearing Australian national team gear, is captured as he is about to make a turn in the snow. Next to it, the Sport4All logo is shown along with the text, "Mitch Gourley. National Manager - Sport4All."

Mitchell Gourley is an accomplished Australian Paralympic alpine skier who has represented Australia in four Winter Paralympics. He served as the Australian team co-captain at the 2018 Winter Paralympics and carried the Australian flag during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Paralympics. At the 2017 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in Tarvisio, Italy, he won the gold medal in the men’s Super Combined Standing. Mitch Gourley brings over 15 years of high-performance experience across sport, business, and government to his role at Sport4All, advocating for inclusive sport.

We recently interviewed Sport4All's National Manager, Mitch Gourley, to gain deeper insights into the program and its progress since its launch.


Get Skilled Access has played a crucial role in the creation of the Sport4All program. Can you elaborate on how this came about and describe the current relationship between GSA and Sport4All in promoting inclusive sport?

Mitch Gourley

The Sport4All program was inspired by our founder, Dylan Alcott AO, who reflected on his own experiences growing up with a disability and participating in inclusive sport. While Dylan’s brother, Zack, could easily play any sport he chose in their local community, Dylan had to travel 1.5 hours to access a wheelchair tennis program, as the local club did not offer one. This disparity was echoed in stories from people with disability across Australia.

In 2019, after meeting with the Federal Sport Minister, Get Skilled Access was tasked with creating a solution to this issue. The outcome, designed by and for people with disability, was the Sport4All program.

Sport4All has since grown significantly. Although we still work under Get Skilled Access and collaborate closely with GSA consultants and leadership, Sport4All has become a full-scale department within the organisation. We now have a team of over 22 staff members dedicated to the program across Australia.


What key values and strengths do you bring to the Sport4All program, particularly in the context of inclusive sport?

Mitch Gourley

Our collective goal is to empower clubs and schools to confidently include people with disability and expand their choices in inclusive sport. Each member of the Sport4All team brings a unique set of personal stories and lived experiences, underscoring our passion and commitment to this mission.

Similarly, the GSA consulting team applies this ethos across various sectors, from corporate environments to government initiatives, spanning employment to events. We strive to build a world where people with disability can aspire to any role—be it a mother, brother, CEO, shopper, barista, teacher, or volunteer.


How has your personal experience shaped your commitment to this cause?

Mitch Gourley

On a personal note, this principle is central to everything we do. In my 20 years in high-performance sport as both an athlete and staff member, the number of people with disability I encountered in paid or leadership roles was disappointingly few. Those who were present had often been successful Para athletes. This disparity never felt right to me. I saw many individuals making significant impacts in coaching, leadership, and strategy, without ever having been athletes themselves. It made me wonder how many intelligent, creative, and hardworking people with disability were being overlooked. I knew there were 4.2 million remarkable Australians, many of whom loved sport and could contribute valuable skills and insights if given the chance.

Before all this, I grew up playing and contributing in community sports in regional Victoria. This experience built the skills, self-worth, and confidence that supported my educational and professional journey. Although I was often the only child with a known disability, my local clubs and schools embraced me and my family. I played, coached, helped out in the canteen, and learned essential life skills such as punctuality, handling money, and communicating with diverse groups.

Currently, many people with disability still lack these opportunities in their local communities. Clubs and volunteers are overwhelmed, and the idea of ‘something different’ can be intimidating—but it doesn’t have to be!


You mention the importance of lived experience and the philosophy of ‘calling in, not out.’ Could you elaborate on how this approach has shaped your interactions in the inclusive sport community?

Mitch Gourley​

Sport4All was born out of GSA, an organisation that values lived experience at the forefront of everything we do and prides itself on ‘calling in, not out’ – this idea that we all learn better together and nobody responds well to being told everything that’s wrong without offering a tangible solution and a helping hand on the journey towards it.

At Sport4All, we often play with competitive and determined sporting-type people and organisations. We started using the phrase ‘we connect, not compete’ because we’re not trying to take over or build anything ‘new’; we just want to drive systemic impact in those mainstream structures where people work, play, coach, volunteer, and participate in inclusive sport.


Sport4All aims to make sporting opportunities inclusive and accessible for all. How does S4A achieve that, and can you share some stories that showcase S4A’s impact on the community?

Mitch Gourley​

Sport4All has a real focus on working with existing systems – in our case, clubs, schools, and sporting organisations like NSOs and SSOs – to help them make all their offerings more inclusive for people with disability. Whether it’s playing, coaching, volunteering on the committee, working the canteen on a weekend, or even spectating, we want to ensure everyone has a place.

We do this because we know there are already heaps of fantastic organisations running disability-specific sport participation opportunities, and they do a great job providing that service. However, people often travel long distances to engage in these programs, and not everyone with disability wants to participate in sport in a playing role. Some might want to be social members to connect with others in their local area, or contribute to clubs as volunteers, coaches, or officials.

Facilitating this kind of connection in local communities can have a significant impact. We have stories of people with disability who, for example, were studying an accounting degree and used to watch sport at their local club. After the local club implemented Sport4All, they started to engage with this person and realised the opportunity for them to volunteer as treasurer at the club. This not only helped the club committee but also provided invaluable experience for this individual, ultimately helping them secure their first paid job. These kinds of connections and outcomes were only possible due to the increased curiosity and confidence of the club to engage people with disability in their community. While on the committee, this person met other people in the club community and eventually met their partner!

We’ve seen other great examples too, like the Wyndham Multi-sport event, VicSport CSPN session, school professional learning sessions, Tennis West DEI forum, and PA Education Program partnership. These initiatives highlight how impactful it can be when local communities actively include people with disability.


What are some of the biggest challenges faced by the Sport4All program in promoting inclusive sport, and how are you working to overcome them?

Mitch Gourley​

The greatest obstacle is invariably fear. When inclusive sport is mentioned, well-intentioned people often become apprehensive about saying or doing the wrong thing. This fear leads to avoidance and exclusion instead of inquiry and inclusion. It’s not that people are ill-intentioned; they’re simply nervous and believe they’ve never encountered someone with a disability before, viewing it as a formidable challenge.

Another significant hurdle is our collective competitiveness and impatience for immediate results. Sport4All is committed to transforming complex, entrenched systems rather than merely organising ‘come and try’ sessions to attract a set number of participants. Such systemic changes—fostering curiosity, developing skills, and building confidence in sports clubs (which are often managed by time-strapped volunteers) and schools (led by overburdened teachers)—take time and can be difficult to quantify.

However, this approach is essential for driving sustainable change and breaking the cycle of dependency on funding.


Looking ahead, what are the exciting new developments or program expansions planned for Sport4All in the realm of inclusive sport?

Mitch Gourley​

We’ve seen some impressive national growth, with 22 roles spread across 6 states, and we’re delivering Sport4All programs in over 30 Local Government Areas. Our goal is to add another 20 by the end of 2024. On the partnership front, we’ve teamed up with over 15 partners across 5 states to further promote inclusive sport. 


What message would you like to convey to potential participants or partners who might be hesitant to join the Sport4All program?

Mitch Gourley​

Curiosity is the first step! The Sport4All program is designed to create more welcoming and inclusive experiences for everyone in your community. The education process is straightforward and FREE, as are many of the small changes you can implement to make your club, school, or organisation more inclusive. For councils, the Sport4All program fosters employment opportunities for people with disability within your community while supporting the clubs, schools, and organisations that utilise your facilities. This not only enhances access to sports and active recreation but also delivers better outcomes for your community.


How can individuals, organisations, or sponsors get involved in supporting and promoting the Sport4All program?

Mitch Gourley​

Sport Partners, we’re all about sparking curiosity, building skills, and boosting the confidence of your internal staff, casual workers, coaches, and volunteers. Together, we can create meaningful action plans for lasting change in your sport.

For people with disability, we offer fantastic, flexible, and inclusive roles as Inclusion Coaches. It’s a great way to work in the sports industry and make a real impact on the community!

Including people with disability in your sport isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s incredibly beneficial! With 75% of people with disability eager to participate more in sports, there’s a huge potential for more volunteers, members, and spectators. This not only enhances the economic and cultural value of your sport but also fosters a more vibrant community. Research shows that people with disability are just as productive, take fewer sick days, and are 9x more likely to innovate. Plus, sport clubs offering diverse programs are generally more financially robust and deeply connected with their communities.

Sport4All is here to make sure everyone is included. Let’s build a more inclusive and dynamic sports world together!


In your opinion, what role do programs like Sport4All play in building a more inclusive and equitable society?

Mitch Gourley​

Absolutely, sport is fantastic for both physical and mental health. But beyond that, it serves as a powerful tool for social and community participation. It helps build cohesion, skills, and confidence in areas like social connectedness, education, and training, which eventually lead to meaningful employment. It’s not surprising that groups like people with disability, who face barriers to engaging in sport, have lower representation rates in education outcomes and employment statistics.

You know, we have one of the lowest workforce participation rates for people with disability in the OECD, and this hasn’t improved in over 30 years. It’s quite concerning.

That’s where initiatives like Sport4All come in. By building the confidence and capability of our community sport sector to include people with disability, we’re not only enhancing physical and mental health outcomes but also improving social connectedness. This can start to address the more systemic, downstream impacts of people with disability missing out on the social and economic benefits of sport.

It’s a crucial step in the right direction!

Sport4All Wins National Award for Inclusion!

Sport4All has been named the Inclusion Program/Initiative of the Year at the prestigious 2024 Australian Sport, Recreation and Play Innovation Awards!

We are overjoyed that our dedication to inclusive sport has been recognised on a national stage. This award is a testament to the hard work and passion of everyone involved in Sport4All, from our team at Get Skilled Access to the countless community sports clubs and schools that have embraced the program.

Together, we are making a difference. Sport4All is empowering people with disability to enjoy the many benefits of sport and fostering a more inclusive sporting landscape for all Australians.

A group photo of the Sport4All team holding the Inclusion Program/Initiative of the Year Award at the National Sports Convention.
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