The Olympic and Paralympic Games have always stood out on the sporting calendar not just for the accolades and unfathomable talent of those who compete at such an event, but for their marker as one of equality and unity. If ever there was a way of uniting the world despite differences, the Olympic and Paralympic Games do just that. Sport has a way of holding a mirror up to ourselves, in which we see not only our human potential, but all that makes us human – the agony, the devastating crush of defeat, as well as the camaraderie and teamwork. It was a shocking revelation then, to find that despite these ideals of equality and acceptance, when it comes to cash prizes for athletes there is a huge disparity for Olympians and Paralympians here in Australia.
In Australia, and many other countries, the national committees for the Olympic and Paralympic teams are responsible for funding the medal bonuses awarded to their athletes. But in devastating news, Paralympic Australia doesn’t have the funds for medal bonuses and apparently, according to a spokesperson, they never have. It means that while Australia’s Olympic Committee offers a cash prize of $20,000, $15,000 and $10,000 to gold, silver and bronze winners respectively, Paralympic athletes who win a medal receive no cash prize.
In an interview with SBS, Paralympian sprinter Scott Reardon explained the difficult such disparity presents to Paralympic athletes. Having been named Australia’s 2016 male Paralympian of the year, Reardon won silver in his class in the 100m sprint at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, before claiming gold in the same event at the 2016 Rio Games. He’s now hoping to do the same at Tokyo. Speaking to the publication, Reardon said: “In a perfect world, we would have equality across the board – in men’s sport, women’s sport, para-sport. But the reality is we are treated differently, and we lag behind.”
Other countries that don’t give out cash prizes to medal-winning Paralympians include Canada, even though cash prizes are given out to its Olympic medallists. Host country Japan also presents a significant disparity in pay, with a gold-winning Paralympian being paid $38,000, close to $25,000 less than their able-bodied counterparts.
Reardon believes that if the funds existed, Paralympic Australia would have no hesitancy in giving out cash prizes to its athletes, but admits that for a point in time he believed the Australian Paralympic Committee to be “basically broke.”
It’s an issue that has huge consequences for athletes. Lack of funding means that for most para-athletes, they’re having to work full-time jobs on top of training full time as an athlete. As Reardon explains, “There’s a lot of para-athletes who simply don’t make much money. They have to work full-time and be a full-time athlete at the same time. It’s not conducive at all to being the best in the world.”
He added, “I know a lot of Paralympic gold medallists who do not have a sponsor, who do not have a commercial agreement with any company, and I think that needs to change.”
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