The excitement surrounding the Olympics is beginning to gain momentum. The weekend before last the Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett hosted a black-tie farewell dinner for all the athletes based in WA heading to Rio.
Sadly though as was the case four years ago the Premier’s Olympic Dinner was only for the able-bodied athletes heading to Rio. Our Paralympians who will also be heading to Rio were not invited. We covered this very issue four years ago when we wrote Time for Equal Recognition.
What makes this decision so astounding four years later is the fact that the Paralympians came back from London with more medals than their able-bodied counterparts. So why are they still being overlooked by a Premier and a Government who constantly talk about equality?
When delving into the situation, Not The Footy Show was advised that the Premier’s Olympic Dinner is an event that is pushed and organised by the Australian Olympic Committee and also their Western Australian arm, the Western Australian Olympic Committee, a body on which the Premier, Mr Barnett is a Vice President. So too is the leader of the Opposition Mark McGowan, the Minister for Sport, Mia Davies, the shadow Minister for Sport, Peter Watson, and the Mayors of Fremantle and Perth, so why is it that none of these supposed leaders thought to have the Paralympians invited?
Surely it is not unreasonable to think that one of these Minister’s for Sport would have raised the question in relation to recognising our Paralympians on equal footing, when they knew the dinner was being planned? Or are these politicians more concerned about being seen in their best bib and tucker at such an event in order to keep their profiles up than recognising the athletes?
Not the Footy Show was advised by one person close to these events that it was up to the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) to organise something for the Paralympians. That may well be so, but surely there could have been some collaboration and even cost sharing had the two combined? Did any of the key people consider even asking if such a thing would appeal to the Paralympic athletes and their governing body?
There has sadly been some bad fiscal management when it comes to the APC and maybe that had a an impact on such a conversation taking place. In WA in 2001 the volunteer Chairman of the WA branch of the APC, Maurice Frichot pleaded guilty to 92 charges of stealing from the Committee. A sum of $320,000 was the amount Mr Frichot was believed to have stolen. The Committee’s insurer agreed to pay $199,000 on its indemnity insurance policy. Otherwise it was believed it would have taken the WA Paralympic Committee six years to recoup the money.
The APC itself has found itself in a financial hole of late, with losses of over $4million after the Sochi Winter Paralympics.
In March 2015 the CEO Jason Hellwig resigned after 12 years with the APC, the last five as Chief Executive. Hellwig had also been Chef de Mission of the Australian team at London 2012, and had also been due to be Australia’s Chef de Mission at Rio 2016. Ms Lynne Anderson took over in August 2015 and set about righting the ship financially. She set about securing new commercial partners and a broadcast partnership with Channel Seven.
In September 2015 the APC secured an injection of cash from the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) of $3.5 million. This was on the back of Anderson’s appointment, along with a new Board of Directors and a string of changes in the way the organisation would operate in the future.
This one-off investment included a loan of AUS$2.5 million. The rest of the funds provided were on the basis of a grant to help the team in their preparations for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
So having weathered a perilous financial storm one can understand that a farewell for its athletes in Perth may not be a priority, but these athletes deserve to be treated as equals to their able-bodied counterparts. Therefore a collaborative approach would have been beneficial to both parties.
Not the Footy Show approached The Premier’s office last week to find out if there would be a similar event for the Paralympians, and if not, why not? No reply has been received at the time of writing.
We also approached the APC in Sydney as they no longer have representation in WA. We asked if they were asked to collaborate with the WA Olympic Committee, and also if there were any plans to have a similar event for the Paralympians. Again we have as yet received no response.
However a source has advised that there are now plans to organise something, although we believe it is all very ‘last minute.’ No doubt it will be a very low key event such as a coffee and cake with the Premier at Parliament house, with the TV crews there to film some shots and tick a few boxes.
It is very sad that four years on from London we find our Paralympic athletes, who work just as hard as our able bodied athletes to compete on the Paralympic stage, still being treated differently. You would think that as a state, and our Premier and his fellow politicians would have matured enough in that time to accept that these athletes deserve to share the same stage, deserve the same media attention and deserve the same stylish send off.
Will they get it right in four years time? Will they get it right when the athletes return? Four years ago again there was a welcome home for the Olympians and nothing initially planned for the Paralympians. Let us hope that this is not the case in 2016.