News that the Paralympic football program has lost all of its funding has angered many sports fans across the country. Probably because these Paralympic footballers epitomise the Australian spirit. They are all battlers who have in the main through their own dedication and commitment, financial and physical made it to be ranked number 10 in the World.
All of the players dream of fulfilling the Paralympic dream in Rio, yet with no funding they will now have to withdraw from international tournaments, their world ranking will lower and their chances of qualifying will evaporate. Some have even said that the Paralympic program will collapse.
Football has always promoted itself as being the most inclusive of sports and a game where there are so many avenues to international representation. There are mens and womens teams at senior level and junior level and all have the chance to play in World Cups. There is a national Futsal team the Futsalaroos, there is even a national Beach Football team, the Beach Socceroos. All of these are overseen by the Football Federation of Australia.
There are some sceptics who are looking at the Paralympic football program and watching very closely to see if the FFA diverts funding to the program to cover the $170k cut made by the Australian Sports Commission. A failure to do so will have many questioning whether the FFA’s commitment to this program is merely lip service and a commitment made to the program to tick a box in its World Cup bid; similar to the Indigenous program that was withdrawn once the bid was lost and was only re-intstated due to pressure from outsiders who sourced the majority of funding.
Let us compare apples with apples. The Pararoos didn’t qualify for London 2012. The Matildas did not qualify for London 2012. The Olyroos did not qualify for London 2012. So there are no differences there.
The Pararoos play in Oceania, but finished second in the only Paralympic tournament held by the Asian Football Confederation. If they played in Asia many believe they would be the second best team. The Matildas came second in the Asian Cup earlier this year having won it four years ago. The Socceroos came second in the Asian Cup four years ago. Again no differences there.
At the last World Cup the Pararoos did not progress from the group stage; had they done so they would have qualified to the Paralympics. The Under 17’s mens and womens teams did not qualify for the World Cup. The womens Under 20 side did not qualify for the World Cup. The men did, but failed to make it out of the Group stage. The Socceroos have not made it out of the group stage at the last two World Cups. Whereas the Matildas made the quarter finals of the 2011 World Cup.
With the exception of the Matildas once again there is no difference in all of the teams. Yet the youth international teams, the Socceroos and the Matildas will all receive financial support; the male side of the game substantially more than the female side. Yet in reality Australia’s best chances of World Cup or Olympic glory lies with the Matildas, and the Pararoos.
If we look at the opportunities being given to the players in all of these teams, every single one in the youth team set ups will be part of a state or national High Performance program. Only two of the players in the Pararoos are part of such a program. Both of them in Western Australia, where Football West have been extremely supportive to the program, and are to be applauded for the progress made.
When you look at this closely is Football really being inclusive? Surely the FFA could hold back on bringing over a tired former superstar and divert their share of his salary to the Paralympic program. They certainly do not need to pay them to play in Foxtel All star games, when that money could be spent on Australian players and teams.
Australia is supposed to be the country where everyone is given a fair go. Let all Football fans unite to give the Pararoos a fair go of qualifying for the Paralympic Games in Rio and put pressure on the powers that be to give the team the funding they require to remain competitive.