Team Blog

An ongoing association with the Paralympics and sport for people with disabilities

Louise Sauvage wins the women’s 800m wheelchair demonstration event at the Sydney Olympics.

I have had a long-term interest in the Olympics and Paralympics since the NSW government submitted a bid for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games in 1990 and the subsequent announcement in 1993 by Juan Antonio Samaranch that the winning bid was “Syydddnnnnnnnneeeeyyyy”.

It wasn’t until two years later in 1995 that Sydney confirmed they would hold the Paralympic Games. As the history of the Paralympic Games shows, it was not until quite recently that the Paralympics were confirmed to be held in the same city as the Olympics. In Sydney, like other cities, this became a negotiation after the announcement of Sydney as the 2000 Olympic city.

In the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games I was involved as an advocate with disability organisations around a series of significant disability issues. In 2008 with Prof Richard Cashman we wrote the first book to examine a single Paralympic games from a planning, logistics and legacy perspective - Benchmark Games: the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.

My other role was as a consultant for the Olympic Coordination Authority where I was involved in evaluating test events in the 18 months leading up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, contributing to Paralympic planning documentation, and access auditing venues and hotels.

UTS also played a significant role in providing education to 200 postgraduate Greek students who were brought out to Sydney in the lead up to the Games where they worked with the Sydney Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (SOCOG) and the Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee (SPOC), and completed a Masters in Sports Management.

Subsequently, this cohort went back to Greece where they had senior roles in the organising of the Athens 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games. UTS continued its role with Olympic and Paralympic education by delivering sports management programs at the Tsinghua University, Beijing. The Sydney Olympic and Paralympic Games experience has a direct connection with the London Paralympic Games in that the International Paralympic Committee CEO is Xavier Gonzalez who was SPOC’s General Manager Sport and Games Operations and Apostolos Rigas who is the IPC’s Head of Knowledge Management who was SPOC’s classification manager.

Apart from these official involvements with the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic games, I attended many sessions of both the Olympics and Paralympics as a spectator and thoroughly enjoyed the sporting experiences. As evidenced in the photo above, one of my favourite experiences was being in the stadium on 28 September 2000 to witness Louise Sauvage win the women’s 800 m wheelchair demonstration event. I was certainly lucky with attendance as I also witnessed a Susie O'Neill gold medal in the pool and Cathy Freeman’s tremendous 400m win! All women …

Since incurring a spinal injury in 1983 I am a power wheelchair user and have been active in the advocacy and research of issues facing people with disabilities. I have held and hold a variety of board positions with sport and disability organisations and represents the perspective of people with disabilities on a range of government committees.

I passionately believe in the rights of all people to fully participate in community life. I have a spinal cord injury at the fifth cervical vertebrate level and have a somewhat distant pedigree in both archery and murderball in my first few years in rehabilitation. Murderball is what wheelchair rugby was first known as and as a very high level quadriplegic with some use of my arms but no hand function I was what is known as a 0.5 classification in wheelchair rugby.

Basically it meant I tried to get in the way and impede progress of the opposition players with the ball. In contrast a 3.5 ability player could be considered to be 7 times better than me but in reality was more like 700 times better!

As an archer I placed third at the North Shore games in 1984 but the only problem was there was only four people competing! Anyway that’s what sport is about competing not winning … well at least for those of us who aren’t Paralympians.

I will be contributing stories with a difference that sometimes are some hard questions about the claims of the Paralympics as a change agent, the position of “disability” within the Paralympic movement and some of the darker side of the Paralympic Games that the organisers might not be comfortable talking about.