Australia’s Olympians got a $20,000 bonus for a gold medal, our Paralympians get nothing

In late July, as soon as Emma McKeon won the first of her four gold medals at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, she was guaranteed a $20,000 bonus. Last week, when another Australian swimmer, Lakeisha Patterson, did the same thing at the same venue, she received nothing. The difference? One was competing at an Olympic Games, and the other a Paralympics.

It is through no fault of her own that McKeon is both able-bodied and highly decorated enough to qualify her for the Australian Olympic Committee’s lucrative cash prizes. The AOC simply has the money to reward its athletes while its para-counterpart, Paralympics Australia, does not.

Still, the stark discrepancy – felt by para-athletes throughout the Paralympic cycle – has become externally apparent during the Tokyo 2020 Games. Australian viewers watching more intently while in lockdown have voiced their discomfort, and one able-bodied sportswoman has done something about it.

Chloe Dalton, who was a part of Australia’s gold medal-winning rugby sevens team at Rio 2016 and now plays for the AFLW’s GWS Giants, had read about Team USA’s parity in this space, with Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists each receiving $52,000.

“I assumed it was going to be the same for Australian Paralympians,” she says. “So I was pretty shocked when it came out that they actually received nothing when they win a medal.”

Dalton campaigns for gender equality through her podcast called the [female] athlete project, and decided to take up this cause as well by setting up a GoFundMe page. In three days it has raised more than $51,000. She hopes the pot will swell to $100,000, with all of it to be split evenly across among Australia’s Tokyo Paralympics medal winners. The sale of T-shirts bearing the word “equal” have also added approximately $8,000 to the pool.

“I think as a female athlete, because I’ve experienced a lot of inequalities, particularly in pay, there’s this idea that people don’t think your sport is worth as much simply because you don’t get the same TV viewers and you don’t get as many sponsors,” she says. “I’ve heard that argument in my life so many times.

“I’ve had the chance to interview a few Paralympians on the podcast and I think that they’re such exceptional athletes and I myself have got so much joy watching them. There’s also been a really special element where their interviews have been really candid and emotional, and I’ve really enjoyed that element as well. With the required preparation for an event like that on the world stage, there’s just no reason as to why they shouldn’t be paid the same.”

Australian Olympic silver medallists and bronze medallists are also rewarded with $15,000 and $10,000 respectively. Some other major countries have similar systems. Canada is another which hands out cash prizes to medal-winning Olympians but nothing to Paralympians. Host country Japan offers gold-winning Olympians about $63,000 and Paralympians the significantly smaller sum of $38,000.

“I loved the way so many Australians are quite outraged about this issue because I think it’s really important for them to be aware of the inequalities that exist,” Dalton says. “People are talking about it a lot and sharing these stories, so I hope that can actually generate a bit of momentum and that people can get more of an understanding of what a lot of these athletes have to go through.”

The disparity points to a broader issue of a paucity of funding in Australian para-sports. The AOC and PA are separate entities, both of which compete for funding.

PA received $3m from the federal government in 2021 to support 13 Paralympic high-performance programs, but the governing body reported only a little over $13m in revenue in its latest annual report, compared with the AOC’s $26.5m.

“Paralympics Australia absolutely agrees that our Paralympians deserve equity of recognition,” said chief executive Lynne Anderson. “PA has never had a funding program for Paralympic Games medallists as we just don’t have this funding available from grants or sponsorship. This is something we will look at again after the Tokyo Games.”

Dalton is eager to continue campaigning for equality and says she will work with Australian para-triathlete Katie Kelly, whose Sport Access Foundation helps make sport accessible for children with disabilities.

“I’ll work with people like her because, while I’m trying to advocate for Paralympic athletes, I think it’s also really important to make sure they’re the ones with the voice in that space too, because they’re the ones experiencing that inequality.

“But I’m really keen to get people at a table and actually try and make longer-term change, because this fundraiser is obviously a short-term solution. It’s really important that, moving forward, change has made at a higher level.”

Australia has won 13 Paralympic gold medals in Tokyo, 21 silver and 20 bronze.