In 2015, the Pararoos program was cut by the Australian Sports Commission under the controversial ‘Winning Edge’ policy, which requires all Aussie Paralympic sporting teams to be ranked in the top five in their discipline in order to qualify for funding.
The decision was devastating to Pararoos mainstay Ben Atkins, who said the Pararoos had given him purpose and self-belief, and that he is always incredibly proud to represent Australia.
“We had no program anymore, the program was put on ice. It took a lot of lobbying from past stars and conversations with FFA to get a model up and running to give us a lifeline,” Atkins told FourFourTwo.
“The irony is that we then journeyed to Argentina and achieved what we achieved – which is the basis for the documentary – we were 1-1 at full-time with Argentina, who are a top-five nation.
“I honestly don’t understand the Australian Sports Commission’s policy – I know there are a lot of great sports out there that deserve funding, but personally I would have loved to have the funding continue.
“I tied my identity to football. I didn’t realise that people with disabilities could go on to achieve whatever they wanted to in life.
“Going in there and seeing those that would go on to become my teammates showed me anything was possible.”
In response to the decision, Fox Sports television producer, Tom Ferguson, was inspired to follow the team for two years, working pro bono and using his own savings, to capture the side’s inspiring quest to prove their worth at the 2017 World Championships.
The resulting documentary – The Pararoos – premieres in Sydney tonight, with all funds raised going towards supporting the team’s journey to the Asian Cup this year.
The documentary showcases Atkins and his teammate’s top 10 finish at the 2017 IFCPF World Championships, beating the likes of Japan and Portugal before eventually falling to a narrow 2-1 loss to Argentina in extra-time.
The side’s impressive results were surprising to all involved, and Ferguson believes it was vindication of the team’s value to all Australians.
“To begin with I did it as a passion project, I’m a huge football fan and it just grew and grew,” Ferguson said.
“I put a fair bit of money into it now, but it was always meant to be for exposure for the Pararoos.
“I hope it gets exposure for the boys and grows the support for Paralympic football. The big thing went I first spoke to (Head coach Kai Lammert) in 2015 was the idea of expanding the program.
“It was never meant to be exactly what it became, but what happened in Argentina was amazing.
“Now the word’s starting to get out – for kids with disabilities, football’s a really good avenue to go down.”
Atkins said the Pararoos will approach the 2018 Asia-Oceania Championships in Iran this November – which will decide whether they qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Spain – with renewed confidence and dedication.
“The main goal in our four year cycle is the World Cup in Spain next year,” he said. “Hopefully we can build on the momentum we had in Argentina and push for a top 10 finish.
“Long term, our ambition is to have corporate partners come on board so the Pararoos can be around for a very long time.”
The Pararoos premieres 6pm tonight at the Carriageworks in Sydney. All funds go directly to the Pararoos’ 2018 Asian Cup and 2019 World Cup journeys.
For more information or to donate, please visit https://www.pararoos.com.au/pararoos-movie