Australia's Paralympic medallists to be paid the same bonuses as Olympians

The federal government has announced it will give Paralympics Australia extra funding to close the bonus pay gap for those para-athletes winning medals at the Tokyo Games.

Australian Paralympians Scott Reardon and Meg Lemon.

Australian Paralympians Scott Reardon and Meg Lemon. Source: AAP

Australia’s Paralympic medallists are set to be given pay equivalent to their Olympic counterparts after the federal government announced it would give Paralympics Australia extra funding.

As reported by SBS News last week, Olympians are rewarded by the Australian Olympic Committee with prizes of up to $20,000 for reaching a podium. However, para-athletes don't get anything from Paralympics Australia, which doesn't have the funds to give out bonuses.

Speaking in parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that will change for Australia's Paralympic medallists at the Tokyo Games. 

"We have won 60 medals so far, and recognising the national significance of the Paralympic team, I'm very pleased to announce that the government will provide additional support to Paralympics Australia to ensure our Paralympic medallists will receive equivalent payments to our Olympic medallists,” he said. 

PM confirms funding for medal bonuses for Paralympians

In a later statement, Mr Morrison and Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck said the decision "ensures Paralympics Australia can recognise our champion Paralympic athletes in line with payments made by the Australian Olympic Committee to medal-winning athletes in Tokyo."

"Australia’s para-athletes have represented our nation with great distinction and pride in Tokyo, delivering performances that have buoyed millions during what is a difficult time for the nation," it said. 

"Like their Olympic counterparts, Paralympians often have to make major sacrifices in their lives foregoing family and work to train and compete nationally and internationally."

The government said the additional revenue could also ensure Paralympics Australia can make medal bonus payments to athletes at future Paralympics. 

While some para-athletes may receive medal bonuses from individual sponsors or the governing body within their sport, the national Paralympic body says it does not have the resources to invest in programs such as athlete rewards as available funding goes to delivering Australian teams to the Summer and Winter Games. 

It said on Thursday the announcement “will no doubt inspire greater success over the remaining days of competition". 

“This is such incredible news for our amazing Tokyo Paralympic medallists, who have worked their hearts out to perform the best they can for their country and have inspired and delighted us along the way,” President Jock O’Callaghan said in a statement. 

PA chief executive Lynne Anderson said our Paralympians "absolutely deserve equity across the board, including reognition and respect". 

“This is such an incredible reward for our successful Tokyo Games medallists. They have all told stories of the importance of valuing inclusion and equity for people with a disability in sport and society in their post-event interviews," she said. 

"To see equal medal recognition with their Olympic counterparts become a reality demonstrates tangible proof of what they are advocating for and real hope for a more inclusive future.”

The announcement comes after the SBS News report highlighted the inequity and sparked calls for change.

Olympic gold medallist and AFLW player Chloe Dalton was among a number of Australians who launched initiatives to try and level the playing field. 

A fundraiser launched by Dalton for Paralympic champions raised $75,000 in three days. That money will still flow to medal winners. 

“There was an incredible amount of people that got on board and donated or even just shared the message. I think the fact that so many people have started talking about it and raising awareness about the issue has been a massive part of that push for change at government level,” Dalton told SBS News. 

“I think the biggest thing with financial support, is when it allows you to not have to worry about working so much… the less that they have to work and the more that they can focus on training, nutrition and recovery, means that when they get to the world stage, athletes can perform at their very best and compete with the best in the world.”

Australia has won 60 medals, including 13 gold, so far in the Paralympics, which is set to wrap up on Sunday.

Speaking to SBS News from Tokyo, Australian Paralympic sprinter Scott Reardon welcomed the announcement. 

“I think it’s really, really cool to be acknowledged like our Olympic counterparts are, for the first time in our Paralympic history,” he said.

“Just the acknowledgement that we are seen as equals is pretty cool.”

Reardon won a silver medal in the T63 100m sprint in London and then took gold in record time at the Rio Games.

The sprinter missed out on the podium in Tokyo but said the financial boost some of his compatriots will take home will make a difference.

“The financial stuff is obviously cool and people will be able to use that in ways that will enhance their lives and enhance their training," he said. 

A boost for all Australians with disability

Serena Ovens, CEO of the Physical Disability Council of NSW, told SBS News the move toward pay parity extends beyond those competing in Tokyo.

“It is of huge significance to people with disability. It says to them that everybody in the Australian community cares,” she said.

“This sets the scene for what we should expect for people with disability in our community.

“Just being equal, being included, is really important and this is a start.”

The government said it had provided $88.8 million for para-athlete high performance programs in the five years leading up to the Tokyo Games, and that Commonwealth Government Paralympic high performance funding has increased by 40 per cent since 2012.

Published 2 September 2021 at 2:33pm, updated 2 September 2021 at 6:41pm
By Lucy Murray, Michelle Elias