Para-sport and the performances of athletes with a disability have provided some unforgettable moments from the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. But the question is how far can this momentum take Para-sport?

APC Chief Executive Lynne Anderson said converting Commonwealth Games success and primetime exposure into greater awareness of disability is a challenge she hopes Australia will accept.

“Gold Coast 2018 has only reinforced what we already know about Australians having a deep respect and admiration for our incredible Para-athletes,” Anderson said.

“As always, it is now about converting what has been achieved into success on a broader scale. The APC is a proud advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion and we will continue to challenge Government, the corporate sector and the community to ensure accessibility to sport for people with a disability continues to grow.

“The APC makes no secret of its fierce push for greater equity in funding for Para-sport compared to able-bodied sport. Our Para Athletes have shown what happens when they are given support, but the reality is that equity of opportunity is still not there for people with a disability.

“It is a never ending battle and the stakes are only getting higher, particularly in the current financial environment and at a time when the development pathway for disability sport is under immense pressure.”

“From high performance funding to grassroots sport and accessibility of venues, there is an under-representation of resources for disability sport and the APC will fight to see these areas receive greater support. We know that not only will this benefit people with a disability, but it is the right thing for the whole communitiy. We know just how much our  Para-athletes impact positively all of society, and the positive buzz and widespread respect around integration in the Commonwealth Games is proof for all to see.”

Anderson said the incredible work of GOLDOC, the Commonwealth Games Federation and the International Paralympic Committee to build Para-sport deserves high praise.

Anderson also applauded the outstanding Para-sport coverage delivered to Australian audiences by the media, led by the Seven Network as the host broadcaster.

“The response we have received about the performances of Australian Para-athletes here has been overwhelming. Everyone I speak to here has loved the integration of Para-sport and we have loved seeing our athletes in the limelight which is where they belong,” Anderson said.

“As broadcast partners of the APC for the Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games, the Seven Network has built a strong pedigree for covering Para-sport and I congratulate them for the way they have brought the stories of our Para-athletes to Australia.

“The Seven Network’s coverage of the Para-sport events has been incredible and has really captured the excitement, passion and ability of our athletes while also illustrating the value of Para-sport.”

Inclusion has been a key theme of the Games with a record number of number of sports (seven) and medal events (38) on offer for more than 300 Para-sport athletes.

Peter Beattie, Chair of the Gold Coast 2018 Organising Committee (GOLDOC) said the 73 per cent increase in Para-sport events and 45 per cent increase in Para-athletes from Glasgow 2014 was one of the achievements he is most proud of.

“One of the things that I will recall out of the Games that I will always be very proud of was the response from Australian spectators. They were incredibly vocal, they gave standing ovations to the Para-athletes and it was just one of those moments that you’ll always remember,” Beattie said.

“People got to understand the value of the [Para-sport] events, they appreciate it and you break through. It has an educative role for all of us.”

Para-sport medals were counted on the overall medal tally, which Australia topped convincingly. Australian Para-athletes pulled their weight, by winning the biggest number of Para-sport gold medals on offer from any nation – 16 of 38.

According to Australian Paralympic legend Kurt Fearnley, the success of Para-sport at the Commonwealth Games must be measured away from the sporting area.

Fearnley won silver in the men’s T54 1500m and gold in the marathon on the final day of competition, both events reaching massive audiences via the Seven Network’s live coverage. Fearnley was also selected as Australia’s flag bearer in the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony.

“I’ve been put in this position of privilege over the past week that I could not have ever imagined I would be in,” Fearnley said.

“The crowds have been loving it; Channel Seven has been doing a great job. Let’s talk about disability further now.

“Let’s have the conversation about what’s happening here at home for people with a disability; about our education facilities, about our transport, about employment.

“Let’s have this conversation on a greater level and let’s make sure we can do something positive for what’s happening right here.

“It’s the right thing to do so now let’s use it as a pivotal moment. Tomorrow morning have that yarn about disability wherever you are.”

Duane Kale, Vice President of the International Paralympic Committee, believes what he has witnessed at the Commonwealth Games can be a catalyst for positive change.

Kale won multiple medals in swimming for New Zealand at the 1996 Paralympic Games and was elected as IPC Vice President last year after serving on the Governing Board since 2013.

“With Para-sport, our athletes inspire and excite the world. When the public and spectators see athletes achieving the seemingly impossible, it has an inspirational effect,” Kale said.

“Changing perceptions, lifting awareness, accessibility and inclusion, that’s what Para-sport does.

“What I’ve witnessed here is the excitement of the Australian public. I have a number of Australian friends who have been sending me notes about how wonderful it is to see the inclusive activity of sport within the Commonwealth Games, so credit to the CGF for lifting the profile even further.

“Everybody has a contribution to make but unfortunately, so often people with an impairment are judged by what they can’t do. But here, they are judged in an athletic environment and what they can achieve. That changes society, it flows into business, into economics and the well-being and progress of countries.”

“We have got to some work to do now to continue to build on this momentum. It is critical for the world to have success in growing that awareness of inclusion and accessibility. Para-sport normalises disability and impairment within society.”

For Australian Para-swimmer Ellie Cole, the impact of Para-sport this week on the Gold Coast is already evident.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t have any role models with a disability to look up to. I looked up to [Olympians] Susie O’Neal and Petria Thomas which is why I became a swimmer, but not really any Para-swimmers,” Cole said.

“To have had a large number of Para-swimmers here, getting out there, racing really fast and winning gold medals for Australia, it’s going to make an impact on people.

“Australia got a really good taste of Para-sport this week and I think the perception of people with disability is changing.

Hopefully more people will come up to me say ‘I understand you can do whatever you like, I’m not going to help you with your shopping bags anymore’” she added with laugh.

Her team-mate Blake Cochrane, a veteran of three Paralympic Games, believes the power of Para-athletes to share their stories will only grow at the Tokyo 2020 Games approach.

“I think sport is one of the best things you can do because when you step out in competition, you’re no different to anyone else. You’ve got that passion and desire to want to be the best,” Cochrane said.

“I think the best part about being a Paralympic athlete is that we are all very proud of the stories that we have behind us. A lot of us have overcome a lot of hurdles, barriers and adversity to be the best athletes in the world.”

By APC Media
Posted: 15/4/18