By Greg Hartung AO
History of Australian Sports Policy Series: Part 27
The purpose of this chapter is to consider two issues which made an important imprint on the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games legacy. The first concerns the vexed question of entry fees applied to teams to enter the Games; the second relates to the formation of the South Pacific Paralympic Committee (SPPC) as a fully functioning regional member of the International Paralympic Committee.
A: The International Paralympic Committee learns the art of negotiation following the Sydney 2000 entry fee controversy
The Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games were the last Games to charge athletes an entry fee to participate. Up to, and including Sydney, Paralympic athletes had to “pay to play”. This was a controversial issue which played out publicly in the NSW and Federal Parliaments. It was also a cause of serious debate within by the IPC and the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) which would lead to a change in all future host city contracts. Athletes attending future Games were to be the beneficiaries of the reform, but it came too late for Sydney.
The terms of the contract between the IPC and the Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee (SPOC) allowed for SPOC to levy an entry fee charge. However, it also allowed for SPOC to exercise its discretion and waive the fee. Although ultimately unsuccessful, both the IPC and the APC argued strongly for this decision to be taken,
IPC President, Bob Steadward, wrote to the NSW Premier, Bob Carr, on 21 July 2000 with the perspective from the international level. He explained that the IPC had signed the host city contract because he thought similar fees would also apply to Olympic athletes. It was only after he had signed the contract, that he became aware that Olympic athletes would not be required to pay either an entry fee or an accommodation fee for Sydney 2000. (Ref 1)
The charge per Paralympic athlete was $1085 and there was to be an additional charge of $4000 for each additional support staff person, if required. Steadward’s perspective from the IPC reinforced the APC view that a number of National Paralympic Committees would be confronted with a “insurmountable challenge” in raising the $1,085 per athlete, as well as finding the funds for air fares, and this would impact their ability to attend the Games.
For the IPC it was not only a struggle about entry fees but also air fare costs. These were covered for Olympic athletes – but the IPC had failed to have a similar clause included in the Paralympic contract. Steadward tried, retrospectively, to negotiate with Carr to support SPOC with additional funding to cover travel costs for Paralympic athletes and coaches. Air fares turned out to be another bridge too far! (Ref 1)
APC gets support
The APC Chief Executive, Brendan Flynn, had met with the SPOC Sport Manager, Xavier Gonzales, on May 12 2000 to discuss the issue and found a strong ally. Gonzales, the most experienced Paralympic specialist within the SPOC administration and who was later appointed as IPC Chief Executive, supported the APC position. He advised that in previous Games, the host NPC had received reductions of 15 percent on fees.
The APC persevered and if the fee could not be waived then a discount might be considered for Australia as the host NPC.
For SPOC it was a clear-cut budgetary matter and the Olympics and Paralympics were not comparable events. The cash coming in for the Paralympics from sponsorship and television rights did not allow for the generous waiver of entry fees which would bring in approximately $6 million to an already stretched SPOC bottom line.
It was sound budgetary discipline but it was clear that if there was to be a reprieve for the Paralympics, it had to be a political one.
Hazzard calls it out
The appeal to waive the fee impost or to secure additional funding from government to cover the costs drew considerable support from politicians in both the NSW and Federal Parliaments. In a media release on 28 July 2000, the NSW Liberal and Shadow Minister for Disability Services, Brad Hazzard, was particularly vocal in demanding that Paralympic fees be waived. He also drew attention to the $30 million subsidy SOCOG was able to provide to Olympic equestrian teams to bring horses to the Olympics:
“Olympians are getting their air fares paid. Their horses, yachts and equipment are being transported by air for free and their fees to the Olympic Village waived.
“Australians believe in a fair go for everybody and in that spirit, Bob Carr (NSW Premier) and his Government should respond by waiving the entry fee to all the Paralympians coming to our Olympic Village.
“Paralympians are already being blatantly discriminated against because they are having to pay all of their air fares and equipment and transport fees.
“But at least the Carr Government could respond by waiving the $4-6 million required as entry fees into the Village. It would show that NSW does have some sense of a fair go.” (Ref 1)
The Leader of the Opposition in NSW, Mrs Kerry Chikarovski, added her weight to the views expressed by Hazzard. She demanded that the Carr State Government provide an additional $4 million to cover the entry costs of athletes from around the world. “I urge the Carr Government to show the world that we regard our Paralympians with the same respect as our Olympians.” (Ref 1)
APC makes a stand!
On 6 July 2000, as President of the APC, Greg Hartung wrote to several Federal politicians, including Prime Minister Howard and NSW Premier Carr urging a reconsideration of the budget allocations to SPOC to enable additional support for Paralympic teams. The key points of the APC position amounted to:
1: The Australian Team had been declined a discount on the cost of entry to the Games. The Australian Team management, through the APC, had expressed its concerns with the decision which was contrary to decisions taken at previous Paralympic Games in reference to the host National Paralympic Committee and failed to take account of the special circumstances of the Australian Team.
2: The APC noted that entry costs in Australia’s case amounted to more than $500,000 which also included a penalty rate of some $4000 for the 23 additional places being sought above quota.
3: The entry charges would have a negative impact on visiting Paralympic teams and additional direct funding to SPOC would enable organisers to reduce or eliminate the entry fee charge.
The APC correspondence concluded: “…it is important to remind ourselves that the Games are about the athletes – elite athletes in every sense of the word. It seems incongruous that the athletes with a disability (through their NPC’s) are required to pay an entry fee to an event of this magnificence…” (Ref 1)
The APC case was gathering strong support, especially from State and Federal politicians, including Mr Graham Edwards, Federal Labor MP for the Western Australia seat of Cowan and a former Vietnam veteran who had lost both legs during the war. In an address during the Adjournment debate in Parliament on 28 June 2000, Edwards branded the issue “a matter of discrimination” and appealed for support from all MPs. (Ref 2)
Costello brings good news
The APC achieved only partial success. The government was sympathetic toward the host NPC but could not extend that same sympathy to all visiting teams.
On the positive side, this was to be the last Paralympic Games where entry fees were applied. In future all host cities provided the same level of accommodation and travel support to both Olympians and Paralympians.
The Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello, accepted an invitation to attend the Team announcement and the unveiling of the Australian team uniforms in Sydney in July 2000. Before he spoke, he confirmed with me that the cost impact of the entry fee on the Australian team. He went on to announce that the Government would be making a special one-off allocation to the APC of $500,000. (ref 3)
Kelly joins the celebration
The Federal Minister for Sport and Tourism, Jackie Kelly, reinforced the announcement by the Treasurer and provided more information about a smaller “top up” financial contribution to support athletes from overseas.
In a media release on 27 July 2000, the same day as the Costello breakthrough, she announced: “The Federal Government is to provide $550,000 to cover the $1,085 for (Australian) Team members to stay in the Games Village.
“A further sum of $150,000 will be made available to the International Paralympic Committee solidarity fund to help Teams from less well-off countries send their athletes to the Paralympic Games.
“SPOC’s finances are a matter for SPOC but we didn’t want to see our Australian Paralympic heroes slugged with this fee.” (Ref 4)
Steadward not pleased
With the exception of the $150,000, Australia’s success, however, did not flow through to the international community, a point made abruptly and very publicly by Steadward in a media statement of 2 August 2000 acknowledging that the fee of $1085 per athlete had presented a significant barrier to many countries.
“Athletes taking part in the Olympic Games do not have to pay entry fees and have their flights paid for by the Organising Committee in addition. This leads to many Paralympic athletes feeling that they are being discriminated against,” Steadward said.
“As a reaction to the immense pressure from Australian athletes, the Australian Government declared last week that it was prepared to cover the fees for its national team. The IPC is disappointed that no solution has yet been able to be found for all athletes.”
The pressure was too little too late to force a change of heart from SPOC prompting Steadward to declare that in future entry fees for financing the Paralympics would no longer be permitted.
“Other means of financing must be found which are not at the expense of the athletes,” he declared. (Ref 1)
It was a tough lesson learned by the IPC – but it was one not lost in future bid negotiations.
B: Pacific nations unite to form their own regional group
FESPIC and The South Pacific Paralympic Committee (SPPC)
The delivery of a Games is never seamless. Challenges, conflicts and disappointments are always mixed with the successes. One of those disappointments was the lower-than-expected representation of athletes from our Pacific neighbours. The entry fee requirements had some bearing on this — although with a Games in their own “backyard”, it was an opportunity missed to maximise the Paralympic footprint of Pacific countries in Sydney.
At that time in Paralympic history, the South Pacific, or Oceania, was a region in name only. It was recognised by the IPC but there was no separately functioning organisation covering the region. The South Pacific was acknowledged by the IPC through its representation on FESPIC –the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled Games. In effect the South Pacific region was a sub-set of the FESPIC federation.
The fact that there was no separate representative organisation for the countries of the South Pacific was a deficit which was rectified during the Sydney 2000 Games.
APC hosts South Pacific
During the Sydney 2000 Games, the APC hosted a meeting of all attending South Pacific countries held at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Sydney. It was agreed that the regional countries should formalise themselves as a bone-fide region of the IPC with its own organisation, separate from FESPIC. There were only eight original members of the SPPC: Fiji, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu and Australia.
While satisfied that the arrangement with FESPIC had been a practical solution for the South Pacific region, it could only be seen as a temporary measure until growth allowed for a separate body to be incorporated. This occurred after the Sydney 2000 agreement with the SPPC being declared as the sole organisation responsible for the South Pacific region. It was later to change its name to the Oceania Paralympic Committee mirroring the nomenclature used by the International Olympic Committee.
In July 2001 representatives of all Paralympic member countries, except Vanuatu, assembled in Canberra and agreed to incorporate the organisation as an Association registered in Sydney and with a Secretariat based at the offices of the APC.
The main tasks were the development of sport for athletes with a disability in the island nations and the provision of essential financial support so that Teams from these countries could enter international competition, including the Paralympic Games. Greg Hartung was elected the inaugural President of the SPPC and with the assistance of the administrative staff of the APC, particularly Board Secretary, Ros McNamara, and successive CEOs, Brendan Flynn, Darren Peters and Jason Hellwig, the South Pacific formally took its place at the table of the IPC Executive Council in 2002, as the smallest regional member of the IPC.
The new organisation was dependent on the organisational and financial backing of the APC and, at the beginning, the support of the Australian Government. It was the opportunity provided by the experience of the Sydney 2000 Games which gave the South Pacific Region the financial impetus it needed.
The Prime Minister, John Howard, was a daily attendee at events during the Paralympic Games. During a post medal celebration at the APC venue at Olympic Park, Howard agreed with the case put to him of the need to advance Paralympic sport in the South Pacific through the creation of its own regional organisation. He was keen to report on this to a forthcoming meeting of Pacific countries at the 2000 South Pacific Forum. To mark the initiative sponsored by the APC, he announced $100,000 as seeding funds to establish the SPPC.
It was a “captain’s pick” which helped establish one of the five international Paralympic regions as another lasting legacy of the Sydney Games.
- APF Corporate Documents, 2000 – Entry Fees (Greg Hartung Papers at National Library of Australia)
- Graham Edwards, Adjournment – Paralympics, House of Representatives Hansard, 28 June 2000
- Peter Costello, Australian Paralympic team 2000 launch, Sydney 27 July 2000: transcript of doorstop interview: Paralympics; entry fees payment by Federal Government
- Jackie Kelly, A further $700,000 for Paralympians, Minister for Sport and Tourism Media Release, 27 July 2000
Greg Hartung AO brings great knowledge and experience to the development of sport in Australia. He was a sport & political journalist, Member of the Interim Committee of the Australian Sports Commission (1983-1984), inaugural CEO Australian Sports Commission (1983-1988), Commissioner of the Australian Sports Commission (1991-1996), 2006-2010), Chair of the Australian Sports Commission (2008-20100, Member of the Australian Sports Foundation Board Member (1995-1996, 2006-2010 ) Chair of the Australian Sports Foundation (2008-2010), President of the Confederation of Australian Sport (1989-1995) and Australian Paralympic Committee (1997-2013) and Vice President of the International Paralympic Committee (2009-2013) and Adjunct Professor, University of Canberra (2014-)