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'Remarkable' Chidiac crowned NRL Volunteer of the Year

"He is wheelchair rugby league."

That's how Deb Bacon describes Joseph Chidiac, the founder of Wheelchair Rugby League Australia (WRLA).

Bacon, a WRLA board member, believes "wheelchair rugby league wouldn't exist" at its current level without Chidiac, who dedicates about 50 hours a week to his voluntary position as director.

Chidiac became the first person awarded life membership of WRLA in April and now he's been recognised as the Kayo NRL Volunteer of the Year as part of the Community Awards 2020.

"He's coached, been an administrator, he's a board member, he's a manager – he's done everything," Bacon said.

"We don't have any staff in the organisation, we're very lean. And he's so hands-on … He brings all the stakeholders together, he gets them involved in the spirit and passionate about the cause.

"He's been a coach and he's in a wheelchair, so he's able to bring everyone together and align them towards the passion."

Chidiac said he's "been involved in different forms of wheelchair rugby league for probably 35 years".

"But in 2008, at the Festival of World Cups, wheelchair rugby league tag was introduced," he continued.

Joseph Chidiac named 2020 National Volunteer of the Year

"I was asked to coach the Australian team … and fell in love with the game. I guess it gave me an opportunity to be involved in rugby league on a deeper, closer level.

"And that's all I really wanted throughout my life – I wanted to be involved in the game I grew up with.

"Wheelchair rugby league gave me that opportunity … I couldn't be happier, I couldn't be prouder and it's a great honour."

Chidiac said he was drawn to wheelchair rugby league tag because of its inclusiveness.

"I felt like the game had no barriers. It didn't matter whether you were female, male, able or disabled," he said.

"It didn't matter. You could participate. And I think that's what drove me to really push it and get the sport going in Australia."

There are now wheelchair rugby league competitions in NSW, Queensland and the ACT. The Northern Territory and Western Australia may soon join that list and Chiadic then hopes to expand in Victoria and South Australia to achieve "a truly national sport".

Excitingly, the 2021 Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup in the United Kingdom is set to be played under the same brand as the men's and women's rugby league World Cups for the first time.

"We have to raise funds to get our players to the UK next year, so the timing [of Chidiac winning the award] is perfect for us," Bacon said.

"This is a huge PR opportunity for us to promote this and not only recognise Joe, but promote the game of wheelchair rugby league."

The sport's advancement is testament to Chidiac's work ethic.

"It used to be a voluntary-type hobby. It's now a voluntary-type job, to be honest with you," he said of his role.

"It's getting to a stage where we've got a lot of interest. A lot of people want to be involved. We just don't have the means to employ someone.

"So all the background work has to come from myself and a few others on the board that also have jobs. A lot of it's administration and organising.

"I find that I really enjoy doing it because I know the end result is going to be great for everybody involved."

And Chidiac gets a buzz from helping people reach their goals.

"The first couple of years, probably up until 2012-2013, it was about me. It was what I wanted and it was like I was pursuing a dream," he said.

"I soon realised that by pursuing my dream, I was also pursuing dreams of others. I was seeing people – fathers and sons, brothers, with and without a disability – participate. I started to focus on that because I could see the benefits … It is really rewarding."

The WRLA board nominated Chidiac for the Volunteer of the Year award unbeknownst to him.

"He never thinks about his own position but is always thinking about other people – that's pretty remarkable," Bacon said.

David Parsons, head of partnerships at Kayo, passed on his congratulations to Chidiac.

"Kayo are proud to be supporting the Community Awards this year to acknowledge those who make such a positive difference within the rugby league community," Parsons said.

"Joseph couldn't be a more deserving winner of the NRL Volunteer of the Year Award and we congratulate him and all the other selfless volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes.

"By helping establish a version of the game he loves so that people of all abilities can take part, Joseph is an inspiration to everyone in the rugby league community."