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APC President congratulates 2012 Team
Today we recognise the 2012 Australian Paralympic Team - a group of Australians who already have achieved remarkable things and will go on to inspire all Australians in London in a few short weeks.
Our team of 304 will be the largest team Australia has ever sent to an away Paralympic Games.
Every member of our Team will leave Australia as well prepared as it is possible for them to be.
We have been able to do this with the support of the Australian government, a supportive and knowledgeable Minister in Senator Lundy, the Australian Sports Commission, the AIS, as well as each State and Territory government, and our corporate partners and sponsors.
The Paralympic Games has become an iconic world event and is the highest level of achievement for athletes with a disability.
Like the Olympic Games, it is for the best athletes in the world.
London promises to raise this bar even higher than the benchmark Games of Sydney in 2000 with an expected global audience in excess of three billion and 4,200 athletes from 160 countries competing - 30 more than in Sydney.
In the 2012 version of Paralympic sport, the competition is fierce. For instance, in world sport, there can be no tighter event than the wheelchair marathon featuring Australia’s Kurt Fearnley. Any one of a dozen athletes could take out this event and there is likely to be just seconds separating them.
There is one thing that all our athletes share, across all 13 sports we will contest – they are all high performance athletes at the top of their game.
They also happen to have a disability.
Therefore, they not only have had to cope with significant everyday challenges – but they have had to do so in an environment in which they must uncompromisingly pursue excellence – in a world which is largely constructed by -- and for -- people who do not have a disability.
They have excelled, despite the odds, and as such are models to us all.
Most of us would agree that sport at the highest level can be inspirational. In Paralympic sport we get an added bonus.
Certainly, Paralympic sport inspires -- but it also has the power to profoundly change lives and to enrich our community.
Paralympic sport is not just special for people with disabilities – it has a unique way of speaking to a far wider audience and can radically change attitudes and perceptions.
An athlete’s disability determines his or her classification only – it does not define the athlete. What defines the athlete is exclusively his or her performance. Again, it is ‘ability’ that counts, not ‘disability’.
Our athletes focus on what works - not that which doesn’t.
There is no doubt that athletes with a disability, their families, Carers and Coaches face some tough hurdles – tougher than most – to get to the starting line of one of the most competitive sporting contests in the world.
For many athletes with significant impairment, the cost of care and support is a major barrier to participation in sport.
In London we will have 36 athletes who qualify as high support needs athletes.
Of course, we do not know how many more people with disabilities have not been given the opportunity to excel at sport - or even to compete, and perhaps to represent their country.
We have come a long way in Paralympic sport and support for people with disabilities and the graph is trending upwards.
However, equality of opportunity is still an aspiration. In sport it is still not a level playing field.
This is just one important reason why the Australian Paralympic Committee is a strong supporter of a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
It will give so many more Australians a fair go – and an opportunity to discover their potential and redefine their capabilities through sport, at whatever level.
The Paralympic Games offer those with the talent, determination and with the required support the opportunity to represent their country and to achieve their elite potential.
Those performances will be on show in London from the Opening Ceremony on August 29 to the closing Ceremony on September 9.
There will be cheers when Matt Cowdrey touches the wall in the pool. There will be the same when Kylie Gauci drops a three pointer in Wheelchair Basketball or when Ryley Batt, the world’s best wheelchair Rugby player, crashes through a wall of opposition chairs to score.
We have set the bar high for this Team, but acknowledge that the world of Paralympic sport has changed radically over the last 12 or so years and we do not underestimate the challenge.
We know, as does the rest of the world, that Great Britain has Great Expectations for their Home Team at their Home Games.
We will be among the barbarians at the gate keen to make it as difficult as possible.
I can guarantee you this: you will witness extraordinary performances from a group of athletes who all Australians can be proud to have as our representatives.
Thank you Prime Minister - and to all our guests – for being here today - to help launch the 2012 Australian Paralympic Team.
President, Australian Paralympic Committee
Announcement of the 2012 Australian Paralympic Team
25 June 2012, Parliament House, Canberra