Friday 24 January 2020, 08:14

Australian football proudly celebrates inclusivity, equality and diversity with the Pararoos 

  • First Pararoos match on home soil for more than 19 years supported through FIFA Forward programme

  • Almost 1200 fans in attendance, a record for a CP football match outside a Paralympic Games

  • Football Federation Australia (FFA) received FIFA Forward 2.0 funding which will also assist Australia's preparations for International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football (IFCPF) Nations Championships this year

Bringing more inclusion and diversity into the game is one of FIFA’s main objectives, which is why the world football governing body has been actively supporting Football Federation Australia (FFA) and the Pararoos team in their activities. The Pararoos are Australia’s senior men’s national football team for athletes with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, or symptoms induced by stroke.

Last November, they played their first match on home soil since the 2000 Paralympics Games. The celebratory event was the Pararoos first match on home soil in more than 19 years. Almost half the current squad weren’t even born the last time the team played in Australia and only two players, captain David Barber and vice-captain Chris Pyne, had ever played in front of friends and families at home.

For FFA and its football fans, the event represents a historic achievement, worth remembering for many years to come and it will leave a long lasting legacy impacting future generations. Notably, it was captain David Barber’s 100th match for the Pararoos and the player celebrated Australia’s 5-0 win over Canada with a special jersey presentation from Socceroos head coach Graham Arnold at fulltime.

Taking place in Australia's largest city, Sydney, 100 per cent of ticket sales were directly redistributed to support the team’s activities. The match had the look and feel of a FIFA senior international game, something the FFA was committed to ensuring, to make sure these talented players experience exactly what the Socceroos and Matildas enjoy on a regular basis.

Supported through the FIFA Forward Development Programme, the project was commended by Sanjeevan Balasingam, FIFA Director Member Associations for Asia and Oceania who expressed his satisfaction: “Through the Forward Development Programme, FIFA is committed to supporting and advancing sustainable development whilst promoting and enshrining principles of inclusivity, equality and diversity in all its Member Associations (MAs). Accordingly, FIFA is proudly assisting Football Federation of Australia (FFA) specifically the Pararoos (Australian Cerebral Palsy National Team) through FIFA Forward.

"Utilising project funding under Forward 2.0, the Pararoos were able to play their first match on home soil since the 2000 Paralympic Games in Australia and were able to organise training camps in preparations for the IFCPF (International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football) Nations Championship in June 2020. Football is for everybody, which is aligned with FIFA’s “Living Football” values, and reiterates FIFA's commitment to supporting the beautiful game all across the globe.”

On top of record crowds, the Pararoos realised the highest merchandise spend per fan of any Australian national team match in 2019. Moreover for the first time, match day activations included approximately 200 children with a disability involved as flag bearers, mascots, ball persons and participating in half-time mini games.

For many of the players, including goal scorers Daniel Campbell, Ben Roche and Conor Bunce, this was a surreal experience. Walking onto the pitch, singing their national anthem in front of their friends and families, side-by-side with the team-mates, in front of hundreds of emotional cheering fans. The overall impact of this match funded by FIFA will be felt for years to come.

When asked the players on the highlight of the day, you’d expect players to say “scoring a goal” or “saving a shot” but instead the players made comments such as: “seeing ball kids and mascots that looked just like me” or “hearing the FIFA anthem as we walked out” or “looking into the stands and seeing hundreds of fans wearing the Pararoos scarf".

Cerebral palsy is the most common disability in childhood, with stroke and brain injury affecting millions worldwide. However, the Pararoos have shown that regardless of disability, everyone can play football without barriers, not just at an amateur level, but on a world stage. Tears flowed post-match as players embraced each other, the team staff, and their fans while celebrating an emotional win and more importantly a milestone moment in their lives. To each and every player and their supporters, this historical game will forever be remembered as “the best day of their life."