Steve Hooker deservedly won the Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS) Athlete of the Year award on Friday evening for his remarkable performance in the pole vault at the World Championships earlier in the year.
Justin Eveson from Wheelchair basketball won the Athlete with a disability of the year award, and ruffled a few feathers when he accepted his award, stating to the packed house that as honoured as he was to win, the athletes with disabilities would love to be judged in the same category as the overall athletes of the year award nominees.
To back this up, and not to take anything away from cyclist Luke Durbridge’s success in winning the junior athlete of the year award it was very sad not to see Madison de Rozario included in the finalists for her remarkable efforts. After having spent six months on her back having rods inserted in her spine she participated Australian Paralympic Youth Games and won 5 gold medals in the six events she entered. The one in which she won silver was the 800m which was held just 30 minutes after she had won gold in the 5000m.
Currently the WAIS Athlete of the Year Award is based on athletic performance in open unrestricted competition. This means that athletes with a disability are not eligible. To take part in Paralympic sport you must have a disability, and therefore have restrictions, hence you are ineligible.
All other State Institutes of Sport (as well as the AIS) or Academies of Sport have integrated and inclusive awards, where athletes with a disability (AWD’s) vie for recognition against able-bodied athletes, based purely on their athletic performance.
On many occasions the Athletes with a Disability have actually won the award and some examples of this in 2008 are:
Heath Francis – AIS Joint Winner of Athlete of the Year
Evan O’Hanlon – AIS Junior Athlete of the Year
Matthew Cowdrey – SASI – Male Athlete of the Year
Dylan Alcott – VIS Junior Athlete of the Year
Kurt Fearnley – NSWIS International Athlete of the Year
It is hoped that WAIS will review their criteria to make it all inclusive, and the fact that Steve Lawrence, Executive Director of WAIS sought out Justin on the night and acknowledged that this needed to be looked at, is a very positive move.
After all these athletes train just has hard as able-bodied athletes, and are just as skilled as able-bodied athletes, so there should be no reason why they cannot win an award against able-bodied athletes based purely on their results.
Head down to Herb Graham Recreation Centre and watch the Perth Wheelcats in action and you will witness not only the wonderful skills of Justin Eveson, one of the best wheelchair basketballers in the World, but the other talent on show, and you will be amazed at their athleticism.
As Justin made quite clear on the night being a finalist in the open award would mean more to him than winning an award limited to athletes with a disability.
To be judged on even terms would also raise the profile of these athletes and their sports to encourage more to participate in sport. Which has to benefit all concerned doesn’t it?