The Australian Paralympic Committee is on the hunt for $200,000 in donations in the coming five weeks to get the team to the winter games in Sochi.
As of Wednesday, the committee was 13% short of the $1.5 million needed to fund 10 Australian paralympians and about 23 support people in Russia.
The Australian Olympic team’s budget is just over twice that, for 49 athletes.
Australian Paralympic Committee CEO Jason Hellwig explained that getting to the games was “an increasingly expensive exercise with a multitude of moving parts”.
Here’s what it involves:
Years of planning
The Committee begins planning for the Olympics and Winter Olympics 7 years in advance, when the venue is selected.
Planners consider geography, time zones, language and facilities and develop responses where necessary – for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, for example, Hellwig said Australian paralympians may stay at a “sub site” closer to sailing and canoeing venues.
The Committee visits the venue three to five years before the games and meet with high-performance coaches every six months to make sure the athletes have the necessary support.
A detailed operation plan, covering everything from logistics to media and communications, is developed five years before the games begin.
Athletes leaving their day jobs
Most paralympians hold down day jobs – the Australian Paralympic Committee has helped place athletes in positions at ANZ, George Weston Foods, Suncorp, DFAT, ABC, the RTA and others.
Their employers typically agree to having the paralympians away for 6 to 18 weeks each year to train and participate in sporting events, and for more than 6 months during Olympics years.
Sochi competitors would have left their day jobs 3 to 6 months ahead of the 7 March opening date.
Support personnel and “ugly freight”
Hellwig says his task can be more challenging than that facing the Australian Olympic Committee in some ways.
“There are lots of things that are the same, but obviously we’re dealing with athletes with disabilities that range in complexity,” he said.
That may necessitate medical specialists, sport scientists, special travel arrangements and bulky, fragile, expensive equipment like wheelchairs and prosthetics.
Some paralympians – those with cerebral palsy, for example – may find it far more difficult to overcome jet lag than able-bodied athletes, and may have to arrive on location two months in advance.
Most disabled Sochi competitors are currently training in North America and will board a charter flight to Zurich in the coming months en-route to the games.
Like Australian olympians, paralympians rely on a mix of state and federal government funding and corporate sponsorships for money.
The government allocated $9.1 million to paralympic sports and $5.7 million to the Australian Paralympic Committee this financial year, of a total $120 million made available to sports.
Besides the Sochi shortfall, Hellwig said the 24-year-old committee was also under pressure to meet a $7 million budget to get paralympians to the Rio summer games in 2016.
“We don’t attract big seven-figure sponsorships,” he said, explaining that the committee’s corporate sponsorships typically fell within the $250,000 to $500,000 range at most.
“We are newer, so we’re still building relationships with corporate Australia and we know we are not owned anything from anyone – neither government, corporations or sponsors.
“We’ve got to earn our stripes and the support of the Australian public by being good at what we do.”
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