Paralympics Australia (PA) has called out the inequity in funding and support for the Para-sport system, warning decision makers against repeating “the injustices that emerged from the Sydney 2000 Games” as the country makes its run towards the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

PA president Jock O’Callaghan also took a swipe at Paralympians being absent from ongoing discussions of the war in Ukraine and the possible inclusion of ‘neutral athletes’ at the Paris 2024 Games.

“Much has been said in recent weeks about the power of sport to unite,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

“Much has been said about how unacceptable it might be under a United Nations convention to discriminate against one group of athletes purely based on the passport they hold.

“Well, let me be blunt: there is also a UN convention on persons with disabilities. Its purpose is to promote, protect and ensure full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by all persons with disabilities.

A woman lights the flame for the Paralympic games
Paralympics Australia said the organisation had been fighting for survival since the Sydney Games in 2000. (Getty Images via ALLSPORT: Nick Wilson )

“Sport by any interpretation fits within these frames.”

He was speaking at the release of his body’s strategy for Brisbane and beyond that has taken almost a year to design with input from more than 190 contributors.

The blueprint for the future was described by O’Callaghan as a “fair go” policy to end the “chronic generational under-investment in Paralympic sport” raised during discussions with key stakeholders.

“There was also talk about the stark financial legacy of Sydney 2000 which saw the Australian Olympic Committee endowed with almost $100 million of taxpayer money,” O’Callaghan said.

“The Australian Paralympic movement received about one per cent of that amount, leaving it literally fighting for its survival and fighting for its survival ever since.

An Australian Paralympic sport executive stands at a lectern during a speech.
PA president Jock O’Callaghan said 75 per cent of Australians with a disability wanted to play sport, but only 25 per cent had access to sport. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

“It explains how we will seize on the promise of the Brisbane Games in 2032 to unleash the full potential of Paralympic athletes, the Para-sports system, and Paralympics Australia to deliver benefits to Australia that no other sporting environment or organisation can.

“It is a model for up-ending stereotypes, dismantling discrimination and breaking down inequality that will drive previously unthinkable outcomes through health, education, employment and infrastructure … This is a strategy that is deep-rooted in the Australian value of a fair go – for everyone.”

Around 20 per cent of the Australian population lives with a disability. PA says three in four of them want to play sport, but only one in four has access to sport.

“Why has nine per cent of pathways investment in sport in the past two years gone to Paralympic programs while Olympic programs receive the 91 per cent?

“And why has 15 per cent of high-performance investment in the past year gone to Paralympic sports, and 85 per cent to Olympic sports?

“At nearly every turn, people with a disability view a system geared towards valuing prioritising and rewarding able-bodied programs and athletes.”

PA chief executive Catherine Clark said the Paralympic movement holds an exclusive place in Australian sport with a unique “deep emotional connection” that other sports don’t have and provides the opportunity to create history.

“We are not the Olympics and, with respect, our athletes don’t wish to be Olympians,” she said.

“We’re not a traditional code like the AFL, NRL or cricket. We don’t have weekly ticketing income, rivers of merchandising gold or billion-dollar broadcast deals — yet.

“We’re a representation of what Australia aspires to be — a nation where people work hard, overcome adversity and make the most of their lives.

“This is a plan to create the most successful era in Australian Paralympic history.

“Our responsibility now is to ensure we create the most successful generation in Australian Paralympic sport and leave a powerful legacy for generations to come.”

Australian Paralympic athletes pose during an Australian Paralympic Sport Media Announcement at Allianz Stadium on March 01, 2023 in Sydney, Australia.
Australian Paralympians spoke of the impact that sport had made in their lives. (Getty Images: Matt King)

Chris Bond is the captain of the gold-medal winning Australian Steelers, the wheelchair rugby team. He credits Paralympic sport with turning his life around.

“It really has shaped my whole life since my illness … from a 20-something-year-old ratbag who came into the team, to now being a sort of mature captain of a world championship team, it’s pretty special.”

Two-time Paralympic swimmer Katja Dedekind said being introduced to Paralympic sport opened up a whole new world.

“It’s been amazing … my parents are both able [bodied], my twin brother’s abled, both sides of the family are completely abled.

“The hardest thing was not really knowing much about Para-sport … now our movement is just growing and being a vision impaired athlete I didn’t often find other vision impaired athletes … but now I’ve been able to get into different things and learn new things.”

During its consultations, PA said it heard stories of Paralympians being offered less money than their Olympic counterparts to speak at corporate functions, sports had policies that differed in their support of able-bodied and para-athletes, and of able-bodied athletes who received funding for competition but there wasn’t enough for para-athletes.

PA president Jock O’Callaghan finished with a warning to all stakeholders involved in the funding and running of sport for all, signalling discrimination will no longer be accepted.

“We cannot, and we will not, shy from these difficult home truths. They needed to be put on the table and I can assure each and every one of you, they will continue to be called out.”