The Games that touched the soul: Sydney’s Paralympics legacy


After the chaos in Atlanta, Sydney’s two organising committees resolved to be more coordinated. They mostly succeeded (Paralympic sources say Olympic organisers only signed Kylie Minogue for their closing ceremony when they heard she’d be opening the Paralympics). But resources were far from equal. As the Olympics soaked up sponsors and headlines, the Paralympics battled to raise awareness and funds.

“When I came on board in 1997, I was surprised at how the knowledge of the Olympic Games was at a tertiary level, but knowledge of the Paralympics was a kindergarten level,” says Margie McDonald, who was the communications director for the Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee (SPOC). “People knew it was disabled sport. They weren’t sure how confronting they were going to find it – whether it was going to upset them to see someone with one leg high jump, or with no arms swim.”

The men’s 4×100 relay, featuring Heath Francis (second left) and Tim Matthews (second right)Credit:Waide Maguire

McDonald and her team began an education campaign. One of their most successful ideas was a pen pal scheme linking athletes with a school. Francis, who ran in amputee events after losing part of his arm in a mincing accident, remembers a letter from a third grade student at a Victorian primary. The student recounted how they had performed at their school carnival, and finished with, “I have no idea how difficult it must be for you to get up out of your wheelchair and run 400m each time!” Francis still chuckles when he thinks about it, but “it was also a great snapshot of how Australian kids saw disability before the Paralympics,” he says. “[They thought it meant] being in a wheelchair.”

The Sydney Olympics were, in IOC president Jan Antonio Samaranch’s words, the best ever. Sydneysiders were intoxicated with their success. “I don’t think we went into the Paralympic Games thinking, ‘We’ve got a lot to live up to,” says Matthews, who is now the senior manager of para sport for Paralympics Australia. “We did think we’d need to put on a good show from an athletic perspective. If we did that, people would want to watch. They’d walk away thinking, ‘That was awesome sport, I’m coming back’.”

In the days before the Games, “we were worried about the crowds and athletes performing for empty seats,” says McDonald. But the government subsidised school excursions, so the first heats were cheered on by excited kids. They went home and told their parents, and 1.25 million day passes soon sold out. Quickly, says McDonald, spectators dropped their pity – “which athletes hate” – and were swept up in the spectacle. “They’re on their feet yelling and screaming like a normal sports fan,” she says.

Mostly, the media got on board, too. The commercial broadcaster of the Olympics was only interested in brief highlights, so the ABC stepped in. News organisations sent big reporting teams and “gave us great respect,” says McDonald, although some required a tutorial in terminology, such as refraining from describing athletes as being “confined to a wheelchair”.

“We had bona fide sports journalists and feature writers doing Paralympic sport.”

There were many highlights. Siobhan Paton owned the pool, winning six gold medals and setting six world records in the intellectually disabled events. “My peers can look at me as a hero now, not someone to torment,” she said at the time. “I’ve had enough of the tormenting. They just did it because I was an easy target. I don’t think there will be any teasing any more.”

Swimmer Siobhan Paton with some of her career spoils

Swimmer Siobhan Paton with some of her career spoils Credit:Fairfax media

Tim Sullivan won five gold medals in cerebral palsy events at the track, and would go on to win many more in Athens. Louise Sauvage, Australia’s most well-known Paralympian at the time, won one of her events but was upset in another by her arch-rival Chantal Petticlerc, who would go on to be one of the great Para-Athletes of the next decade. Kurt Fearnley, who is now Australia’s best-known wheelchair racer, kicked off a long and decorated career.

The crowds lapped it up. “They might have been going with good intentions – ‘I need to support our poor disabled athletes’. They came back because it was really good sport,” says Matthews. “They knew what was a good performance, and they knew what wasn’t. We don’t want to be cheered just because we’re there. A pat on the head because we’re alive and that’s the main thing. We want our performances recognised.”

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Sydney also adopted the Cambodian volleyball team, 10 of whom had lost limbs to landmines, and the East Timorese, who arrived in Sydney without athletic shoes. The Herculean efforts of a Chilean swimmer born with one leg and neither arm fully formed brought the crowd at the pool to its feet over and over again. “If the Olympics elevated the spirits, it was the Paralympics that touched the soul,” wrote Herald reporter Anthony Dennis in his wrap of the closing ceremony.

Any preconceptions that disabled athletes were somehow more virtuous were also crushed. The Paralympics recorded more positive drug tests than the Olympics. The Spaniards were stripped of their gold medal in the intellectually disabled basketball competition after it was revealed they stacked the team with able-bodied athletes. Investigations found only two players had IQs below 70 as the rules required; the other 10 had fake medical certificates. Australia learned what Paralympics athletes had long known. This was ultra-competitive, high-stakes sport.

Matthews remembers a wheelchair basketball player reading a newspaper report about his team’s loss. “The story talked about how they didn’t play well as a team, they’d played as a group of individuals,” says Matthews. “He felt as though the movement had made it because the article was written by a sports journalist and critiqued the way they played, not how amazing it was to see someone in a wheelchair play basketball.”

Australian athletes say their own eyes were opened by the games. “The village was like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” says Brad Dubberley, who was then on the wheelchair rugby team and is now its coach. “The most incredible feats of getting around and doing stuff. You’d think, ‘how the hell is the guy with no arms going to eat that hamburger? [He ate it with his feet].

Louise Sauvage receives the  congratulations of Jean Driscoll of the United States after winning the 1500-metre final of the Sydney Paralympic Games.

Louise Sauvage receives the congratulations of Jean Driscoll of the United States after winning the 1500-metre final of the Sydney Paralympic Games.Credit:Reuters

“Everything from the dwarfs to the giants to all sorts of different impairment types, which even in the Paralympic environment we’re not used to seeing. You see people playing table tennis with their mouth and still beating able-bodied athletes.”

Greg Hartung, who was the vice president of SPOC and now heads the Australian Paralympic Committee, would bring medallists to the Ansett marquee to sign autographs after their events. Every day, the queue would be hundreds of metres long. “That was a sensational breakthrough in the perception of athletes,” he says. “There’s a fabled story where a young able-bodied child of about 10 attended the wheelchair basketball, left the stadium and told his parents, ‘I now know what I want for Christmas. A wheelchair.”

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Francis believes the Sydney Games were a turning point for Australian athletes. “The huge strides that Kurt Fearnley and [tennis player] Dylan Alcott have continued to make have only been possible from the support Australians now have for disability sport,” he says. It grew the kind of awareness that made more change possible, too. “I firmly believe that social changes in Australia like the NDIS National Disability Insurance Scheme] being enacted were possible as a result of Australia hosting the Paralympics in Sydney,” says Francis. “It definitely wasn’t the only factor, but I think it played a big part.”

Matthews says Sydney brightened the future of countless Australian children with disabilities, and the Paralympic movement has built on that success to inspire many more. Four years ago in Brazil – a country well behind Australia in its attitudes towards people with disabilities – Matthews met a boy with cerebral palsy who had just attended some Paralympic events. “He had calipers on his legs that looked like they were from the 1930s. But that night, he had his tracksuit pants pulled high. His mum said he wanted everyone to know he had a disability.”

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Richmond’s Nick Vlastuin adamant he touched Jack Sinclair ball as AFL backs ARC call as correct


The evidence to overturn such a decision needs to be “conclusive” and both the reviewer and the AFL were not convinced this was the case.

Privately, following the game, the Tigers were adamant that Vlastuin had touched the ball and that was confirmed publicly on Saturday morning when the defender posted to Twitter.

“When you know you touched the ball, the goal umpire thinks so too, but someone watching from the stands calls you a cheat, what is that?” he wrote.

There was some suggestion on the commentary that Vlastuin did not indicate he had touched the ball, however he did as the field umpire ran into deliberate with the goal umpire.



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AFL Finals 2020, AFL 2020, Richmond vs St Kilda, Nick Vlastuin, goal review, system, ARC, reviews, errors, touched behind


St Kilda fans have been left up in arms after the AFL’s official score review system failed to hand the underdogs a goal on the verge of half-time against the reigning premiers.

With Richmond taking control of the contest after a number of fine first-half goals, it was a shot on goal from Saint Jack Sinclair that was forced to go to the ARC after the goal umpire was unsure of whether Tigers defender Nick Vlastuin had touched the ball.

With the umpire’s call being a touched behind, an unclear picture meant the reviewer was unable to change the decision, leaving a point to the Saints.

Watch the 2020 Toyota AFL Finals Series on Kayo with every game before the Grand Final Live & On-Demand. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >

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Former Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle ‘inappropriately’ touched woman at work dinner, report finds


A report commissioned by the Melbourne City Council has found former lord mayor Robert Doyle behaved in a “sleazy” and “sexually inappropriate way” towards a woman at a Melbourne Health function in 2016.

Mr Doyle attended the event as the lord mayor of the city and as the Chairman of the board of Melbourne Health.

He was accused of repeatedly placing his hand on the inside of the leg of Kharla Williams, who was seated next to him at the black tie dinner.

He was also accused of speaking to her in a “sleazy and inappropriate way” and placing his hand on her lower back near her buttocks after drinking “substantial amounts of red wine”.

Ms Williams was at the dinner to celebrate the achievements of her now husband, Mark Walterfang, who was seated on the other side of her.

In his report, Ian Freckelton, QC, found the allegations raised by Ms Williams and Dr Walterfang to be true.

Mr Doyle declined to comment when contacted by the ABC.

The ABC has contacted Ms Williams for comment.

Dr Freckelton said in his report there were not any inconsistences of substance in the recollections of Ms Williams and Dr Walterfang of the night.

He also said the couple did not appear to have any vested interests in the outcome of the investigation.

“It was opportunistic and occurred in circumstances of significant power imbalance between Mr Doyle and Ms Williams.

“Mr Doyle’s conduct was foreseeably highly distressing and was fundamentally inconsistent with the dignity of the office of Lord Mayor and the reasonable expectations of the public as to how a Lord Mayor should behave,” the report said.

Dr Freckelton said Mr Doyle declined to take part in the investigation despite multiple opportunities to do so.

It is the second report by Dr Freckelton to substantiate allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour against Mr Doyle.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.
An investigation into former Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle has found he touched a woman inappropriately at a work function.(AAP: Julian Smith, file photo)

Multiple complaints made against Robert Doyle

The release of the second report had been delayed by a police investigation into the matter and a civil case that was launched by Mr Doyle.

Victoria Police last month closed a criminal investigation into multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Mr Doyle, with no charges laid.

In 2018 Dr Freckelton investigated earlier allegations against Mr Doyle.

He found in that earlier report that Mr Doyle’s behaviour towards councillors Cathy Oke and Tessa Sullivan could constitute sexual harassment and gross misconduct.

In that investigation he concluded that Mr Doyle deliberately placed his hand on Ms Sullivan’s breast while they were being driven home one night and that he put his hand on the thigh of Cr Oke and tried to kiss her at another time.

The investigation found Mr Doyle consumed substantial amounts of red wine on each occasion.

Mr Doyle resigned from his council role about six weeks after Ms Sullivan made allegations against him and resigned from her job.

Mr Doyle has publicly and repeatedly denied all allegations against him by the councillors.

Ms Sullivan released a statement today saying she was not surprised by the outcome of the investigation into Ms Williams’ allegations.

“I am pleased this second report, like the first, proves what happened, and Robert Doyle is no longer in a position of power,” she said.

Melbourne City Council chief executive Justin Hanney said the reports by Dr Freckelton raised serious issues for the council.

“We acknowledge great courage shown by the women, including Ms Williams, who called out the behaviour of Mr Doyle and came forward,” he said.

He said since the allegations were made the council has made a number of changes designed to keep its working environment safe and free from sexual harassment.



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Bronnie’s sister Janelle Storm touched by tributes | Goulburn Post


news, local-news, bronwyn cooper, anglicare, st saviour’s

The news of a special bench being installed at Anglicare’s Early Education Centre to honour long-standing volunteer Bronwyn Cooper was met with a massive outpouring of love by our Facebook followers. Bronwyn Cooper died on March 7 due to complications from a congenital heart condition. Bronnie’s sister Janelle Storm was deeply touched by the way the Goulburn community has treasured her little sister’s memory, and especially by the way the pre-school will be recognising her contribution. The pre-school was her life, really, ” said Janelle. “We sent her off with her apron in her coffin and some paper pansy flowers the children made for her. It just seemed right.” Janelle fondly recalls her sister as possessing a wonderful sense of humour. “She could be very dry, and she used to be fun at the pre-school because if you didn’t do something right in that kitchen of hers that she adored, she would make sure you knew it,” said Janelle. Bronwyn was born 52 years ago to Sid and Lorna Cooper, along with her twin Julieanne. They were the younger sisters of Annette and Janelle. READ ALSO Sammy takes steps to fight dementia on behalf of her mum Pioneers arrive at Gullen – A Boy from the Bush Part 1 The other sisters married but Bronnie spent her life at home, caring for her ageing parents. Her father died four years ago, and her mother has been gone for nine. Sadly, her twin Julieanne died 18 months ago following an infection by a ‘ superbug’. The twins had both volunteered at the pre-school attached to St Saviour’s Cathedral when they were 14. “Both twins left school and Mum sent them out to find something to do,” said Janelle. “Our parents were very involved at St Saviour’s, so when a lady at pre-school wanted helpers, they both went up and volunteered. Eventually, Julie went off and did other things, but Bron stayed.” When she began at the pre-school, she spent four to five days a week there, but as her parents got older she cut back to look after them. “Then her health got worse and so she did less,” said Janelle. “But the girls at the pre-school were so good to her. They’d pick her up and drop her off every day, and if she got a bit tired during the day they’d run her home.” This Monday, the Anglicare team will unveil a memorial bench and plaque dedicated to her in the grounds of the centre, and hold a morning tea in her honour. Did you know the Goulburn Post is now offering breaking news alerts and a weekly email newsletter? Keep up-to-date with all the local news: sign up below.

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