Thursday, August 30, 2012

London, England — When Wikinews interviewed Oceania Paralympic Committee (OPC) President Paul Bird, the day before the start of this year’s Summer Paralympics, he shared the idea that whilst Oceania may not be the first place one thinks of in connection with “Paralympics” or even “developing countries”, Oceania is represented at the Games in London by athletes who have overcome many obstacles in order to compete.

According to Bird, two athletes from Oceania are regarded as medal prospects. One, Fijian high-jumper Iliesa Delana, missed out in Beijing due to his event being cancelled. He is currently ranked number two in the world, having won silver at the World Championships. The other is Francis Kompaon, a sprinter from Rabaul in Papua-New Guinea competing in the 100 and 200 metre sprints. These athletes qualified under the standard Paralympic processes. Other Oceania athletes are “wildcards”, selected by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to broaden the number of nations taking part. Countries do not always get their preferred choices of wildcards; for a variety of reasons, the IPC may select a less-favoured athlete. In particular, women are more likely to be chosen to address the games’ gender imbalance.

It’s not easy being an athlete, or an official, from a developing country says Bird. Often people are confronted with a host of unfamiliar situations. For example: many of the required forms are now online; officials with little technology experience have to navigate an unfamiliar landscape of browsers, buttons and passwords.

The OPC consists of eight countries: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and Papua-New Guinea. Papua-New Guinea and Samoa are sending two athletes each to the London Games. Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands are sending one each.

Bird says, in attempting to promote Paralympic sport in Oceania, the region’s Paralympic Committee puts a priority on training local officials, coaches and classifiers. This helps member countries conduct their own events, without assistance from Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, the Committee organizes the Arafura Games, a regional competition.

Countries in the region are encouraged by the OPC to assemble teams, get athletes into work rankings, and plan ahead for the 2016 Paralympics to be held in Rio. Efforts are being made to strengthened ties between the region and international bodies such as the International Tennis Federation.

Bird, as head of the OPC, has been a member of the Australian Paralympic Committee since 1993. He won gold and silver medals in swimming at the 1984 Paralympics where he was the Australian Team Captain. He was the Australian Chef de Mission in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004, and the Assistant Chef de Mission in Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996, and Beijing in 2008. He also currently sits on the Australian Paralympic Committee’s board.

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