Does something smell? One thousand people attended the annual Sport
Australia Hall of Fame dinner last night and yet there seemed to be a
bunch of athletes missing.
I am the only athlete with a disability to be inducted into the Sport
Australia Hall of Fame this year and only the third ever (after
wheelchair racer, Louise Sauvage and wheelchair tennis player, David
Hill). The rest - all 379 of them - are able-bodied athletes.
Less than one per cent are athletes with a disability. Less than one per
Don't get me wrong. I'm so honoured to stand alongside some of the greats
of Australian sport, some of them my own personal heroes, people like Don
Bradman and Cathy Freeman, but I believe the selection panel have missed
another chance to address this inequity.
And it's not just the national Hall of Fame that's handing out the
honours to a disproportionate number of able-bodied athletes. Each state
and territory has its own annual Hall of Fame type awards. Of around 1250
inductees around the country, under 2per cent are from Paralympic sport.
Does that seem fair?
Sport Australia Hall of Fame Chairman, John Bertrand, claims the
disparity is more to do with the Paralympic movement's short history,
rather than an oversight (see
Call for an increase in Paralympic recognition, SMH October 10, 2013)
but Australians have been representing their country at Paralympic Games
now for more than five decades and I can think of many with notable
performances worthy of nomination.
The criteria for selection limit the choice somewhat. In order to be
considered, an athlete must be retired from elite sport for two years and
they must be nominated by an NSO (national sport organisation). This in
itself presents a problem in that, if an NSO is not very active in
nominating its successful athletes, the athlete misses out. And what
about those athletes who compete outside the realms of organised,
Consider John McLean, an amazing wheelchair athlete who, despite
competing in two Paralympic Games, has yet to win a gold medal which
means he's unlikely to be nominated by the Australian Paralympic
Committee. Yet, among other impressive achievements, he's swum the
English Channel twice and was the first person in a wheelchair to
complete an ironman. It seems John may miss out because there's no NSO to
Last year I campaigned fairly strongly for Special Olympics ACT to
nominate Siobhan Patton, a very successful swimmer who won six gold
medals at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. She is still the only athlete
with a disability in the ACTSport Hall of Fame.
So, who would I nominate for the national honour if I could? John McLean
of course. But there's also Priya Cooper (three-time Paralympian and
winner of nine gold medals in swimming), Greg Smith (three gold medals in
athletics and a member of the 2012 gold-medal-winning wheelchair rugby
team), Neil Fuller (four-time Paralympian who won five athletics gold
medals) and a handful of athletes from the 60s, 70s and 80s who were real
Compare their results with the Sport Australia Hall of Fame recipients
this year. Of course, they're all worthy of the honour. They're all
amazing athletes. However, I fear the selection panel has trouble
comparing the achievements of able-bodied athletes with those of athletes
with a disability. It's a sentiment echoed by Louise Sauvage, a member of
the selection panel:
''I think with all things to do with sport for athletes with a
disability, unfortunately it's a slow process to change people's
attitudes and minds,'' she said. (see
Call for an increase in Paralympic recognition, SMH October 10,
How do we speed up the process and start to redress the balance? For a
start, NSOs need to fairly evaluate the performance of athletes in their
respective sports and nominate those who deserve to be honoured.
Secondly, the various selection panels around the country need to
acknowledge and address the disparity by inducting more athletes with
disabilities. And lastly, they all need to take a long hard look at the
less mainstream sports and realise that some amazing people, like John
McLean, may miss out altogether simply because they fall outside the
When John Eales was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, he
said that all his sporting heroes were in the room. Some of my sporting
heroes have a disability but none of them were in the room last night.