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Going beyond the feel-good factor to achieve equality in para-sport

Thursday, August 13, 2020
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Harvey Norman
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Sport Australia
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I wasn't sure I wanted this article on equal pay for para-athletes that I wrote published and released this week in the University of NSW's special Athlete edition of the Human Rights Defender Magazine. The reasons were three folds.

The first, I felt given the circumstances of COVID19 with sports struggling to stay afloat that I should be grateful for what I, we, Para-athletes and Para-triathletes have.

But then I came to realise now is the time to advocate for change. We have to turn it around on how we value in this instance, how we value athletes - able and para. They are equal.

This mindset of 'you should be happy with what you've got' has to change. Rather, we have to be thinking about how we can bring everyone through together.

Today, we are all talking about doing things differently post COVID as we come to realise the severe consequences of many inequities that are still so profound across our world.

The second, was around this. Last week, I heard a media commentator say that high performance Athletes don’t really have an interest in anything beyond being an Athlete. We all know this isn’t true. Most often the Athletes can’t afford to risk creating additional stress because stress leads to injury. That’s why Mack Horton’s stance was I thought so admirable and brave at the swimming World Championships last year. It's important to advocate on matters that do not reflect true equality.

The third factor is a more personal reason that reinforced why this article was an important matter. This was around the notion of one's value and worth along the rest of them. Despite all the opportunities I've had, I too have to challenge myself that yes of course I am equal and I and my para-athletes deserve the right to have equal recognition.

I have questioned am I worthy as a para-triathlete in the high performance environment to receive equal recognition to my able bodied peers?

This is because, I hear these types of statements:  'perhaps it's because your times are not as fast', 'you don't attract the mainstream', 'para-sport is expensive', etc.  We know that is how many of us think.

When you think about people with unique attributes to the norm or to even yourself. For example, skin colour, country of birth, gender, sexuality, culture, physical or intellectual attributes, you might imagine that the challenges they have overcome to access and enjoy what all do, may have been more than yourself, or those who might sit within the mainstream of the above attributes.

So for example - White not Black, born in Australia not Iran, LGBTI not Heterosexual, Male not Female, Hearing not Deaf, Sight not Blind, Walk not Wheelchair.

Those unique to the default way of societal norms have faced over a life time the constant challenge of ensuring their needs are accommodated for.

Though this, just like it is for our First Nations people having to face racism almost daily, is tiring, and can lead to one questioning their self worth. Which is why this topic of equal pay for para-athletes to able bodies athletes must be addressed.

Another similar example I am working on in relation to equal recognition and inclusion, relates to an App called ' Zwift'. Zwift is currently the most followed Virtual Online Cycling App in the world. Every cycling and triathlete fanatic is on it. I'm even supported by Zwift with a complimentary subscription. But you know what irks me to the point of wanting to unsubscribe?

Is that my good friend and mentor Gerrard Gosens can't use it. Gerrard amoung many things, is also a Paralympian Cyclist and now Para-triathlete aiming for Tokyo. Why can't he use it? Because he's blind.

So, what does that potentially do to Gerrard and all those cyclist who are blind?

This non inclusive App and the ability to engage with it can eat away at your sense of belonging.

You are left wondering - am I not valued enough to be part of this global virtual community enjoyed by thousands?

Similarly, it's a bit like learning today via a petition that YouTube is removing the auto closed captions. Too expensive. This means people including those like me who are Deaf and Hearing Impaired won't be able to enjoy YouTube unless we upgrade to a premium platform that includes subtitles. Another matter.

Simply put, many organisations still struggle to grapple what Inclusion really means.  

Back to this article on equal pay for Para-athletes - here is a small extract of the article; and you can view this edition on Human Rights of Athletes here: HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER - ATHLETE EDITION  

GOING BEYOND THE ‘FEEL-GOOD FACTOR’ TO ACHIEVE EQUALITY IN PARA-SPORT

“There is undoubtedly significant motivation for Australia’s National Sporting Federations to invest in para-sport.

With this comes a responsibility for the National Sporting Federations to ensure their para programs are treated equally and that their stated objectives for being an inclusive sport go beyond providing a pathway to participation. Non- discrimination must be embedded across all facets of the organisation, including with pay equal to non-para athletes.

This brings me to my own experience in triathlon. As a Para-Triathlete I know first-hand that the commitment required to be competitive at the international level is on par with my able-bodied Olympian, and World Triathlon Series teammates. However, para-triathletes receive none of the million- dollar prize pool that the International Triathlon Union allocate each year to the able-bodied triathletes competing in the World Series races.

Unless of course, the hosting national federation seeks sponsorship for a prize pool. This was the case in the USA Triathlon, where a US$60,000 prize pool was offered for the first time ever in paratriathlon history for the Sarasota-Florida World Paratriathlon Series race held in March 2020.

What we need now is for the sport to recognise, like the FFA did for football in Australia, that all its players have a right to equal pay.

It is time for all National Sporting Federations to go beyond the ‘feel-good factor’ brought by having a para version of their sport and the potential economic benefits they stand to gain. Importantly, they must recognise that equality means valuing their athletes equally across their programs, regardless of whether it’s the men’s or women’s national teams, or the able or para national....."

Read the full article here.

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