‘He just wants to play football’: Dad fights for his disabled son’s rights

A petition has begin on change.org to support Linton’s Hardy’s hopes to keep playing football.

By SELBY STEWART

A complaint has gone to the Australian Human Rights Commission after a 20-year-old regional football player with a rare medical condition was barred from playing with his underage team.

Linton Hardy said his son, also Linton – who has a mild intellectual disability – was devastated he could no longer run out alongside his under-19 teammates at his beloved Rye Football Netball Club.

“He is devastated. It’s a lot more than just the game … it’s the atmosphere and the feeling of being wanted,” Mr Hardy said.

“The poor kid has never been invited to a birthday party in his life other than with family members.”

Linton has Simpson-Golabi-Behmel Syndrome, an “overgrowth” condition that affects just 130 people worldwide.

He is 195cm tall (6 feet 4 inches) and weighs 98kg but has been labelled by those who know him as a “gentle giant”.

Linton (second from left) has been told he is too old to play with his beloved under 19 teammates. Source: Facebook

Linton’s parents applied for a permit to allow their son to play down a level with his friends and in a team he was familiar with.

However, South East Football Netball League rejected the application because Linton was overage and was then outside the four-month flexibility period where a playing permit can be granted.

AFL South East regional general manager John Anderson said the decision was final.

“The basic tenets of this is it is an underage competition and he is overage,” Mr Anderson said.

Linton’s Father took to Facebook to protest against AFL South East’s decision to ban his son from staying down a grade. Source: Facebook

“We’re not denying him a game of football, we are not discriminating against him … there is some flexibility we have applied in the past, but he is now well outside the flexibility we have.”

Mr Anderson said Linton was free to play in the Rye reserves, a team he played nine games for last year.

“In 2017 when he was eligible for under-19s he actually played in the reserves, so there is nothing to stop him in 2018,” Mr Anderson said.

However, Linton’s parents have said competition for a spot in that team had intensified this season and their football-mad son would miss out on selection.

“Last year the reserves struggled for numbers and this year they have up to eight players missing out each week. He’s lucky to get three or four touches a game and he won’t get a game in that grade,” Mr Hardy said.

The complaint to the commission was made by a long-time friend of the family who also started a change.org petition, which has amassed more than 1000 signatures in one week.

The family has received several requests for Linton to join teams in the Football Integration Development Association (FIDA), a league for Victorians with an intellectual disability, but Mr Hardy said this option was not feasible.

“We are on a carer’s pension and these teams are too far to drive to every week. Linton also doesn’t deal well with change and that is half the battle … finding somewhere he is comfortable.”

Mr Hardy said although the club was supporting Linton, the ordeal had taken a toll on his son.

“His tics have come back and now you can hear him at night moaning. He knows there’s something wrong and he knows the league said no and he knows he is not good enough to make reserves,” he said.

“I’ve seen tears in his eyes watching his teammates run out and he just wants to be out there with them.”