Local joins outcry over Pararoos

PARAROOS member and former Callala Bay resident Ben Atkins says the decision to strip the team of federal funding came as a complete shock.

The Australian Sports Commission cut all support from the team last month.

The 23-year-old found out through a call from the media about the ASC’s plans to immediately scrap the team’s $175,000 funding.

“It’s a new policy which basically only supports teams they feel have a guaranteed chance of winning medals,” Atkins said.

“The Sports Commission obviously didn’t seem to think we’d win a medal – they weren’t confident in our ability.”

Just last year, Atkins was jubilant about the team’s plans to qualify for Rio.

“Now the dream to go to the Paralympics is over and that is very upsetting,” Atkins said.

“For them to expect us to be in the top five of the world with the small amount of funding we did have, when other countries like Russia are paying their players as full-time athletes, we were doomed to fail.

“I have been training and working towards this dream since I was 10 years old and to rip that out from under our feet just seems unfair.”

Pararoos coach Paul Brown launched an online petition to “go public” with his plea for funding.

“We already have over 75,000 signatures – the community support behind this cause has been fantastic,” Mr Brown said.

“I found out about six months ago but was told to keep quiet.

“Tell me if I’m wrong, but I think the Australian Sports Commission’s decision based on this proposal is biased and neglectful of Paralympic football. None of our recent successes were mentioned, or that we are the youngest squad in the world still ranking in the top 12.

“They didn’t think we’d win at Rio, which is why they are denying us funding.”

Mr Brown said the whole team was gutted.

“I’ve sent a letter to the Minister for Sport Peter Dutton but he hasn’t made any comment and neither has the Australian Sports Commission,” Mr Brown said.

“They keep passing the buck. It’s very frustrating.

“The least they could do is respond.”

Australian Institute of Sport director Matt Favier said the team would not be reviewed again until next year, meaning they would not make it to Rio.

“At this stage we will be reviewing everyone at the end of the year,” he said.

“There is an opportunity for the Football Federation of Australia to consider supporting the team through funding and we would obviously fully support that decision.

“There was not sufficient evidence they would qualify which brought about the decision.”

Mr Atkins said his goal in life was to play for the Pararoos and is saddened by the thought no one else will have the opportunity to do so.

“One of our teammates has played since the team’s inception in 1999 and we very well may have to retire without the chance to have a final game,” he said.

“It’s not just us I’m disappointed for. The sport gave me so much confidence and independence as a cerebral palsy sufferer and I’m sad to think that other kids won’t have that same opportunity I have had.

“What are they going to strive for now?”

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the only other Paralympic sport to be defunded in 2014-15 was powerlifting, which lost $55,000.

In total, the ASC budget increased $2 million this year, but 80 per cent of that went to its “direct athlete support” program.

The Pararoos fight for funding petition can be found at www.change.org/pararoos.

NO MORE GLORY: The Pararoos have been left crushed and without the prospect of further competition after the Australian Sports Commission cut all the team’s funding.

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