An umbrella body for disability sport in Australia

A meeting was convened on 24 May 1975 at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Adelaide by the Australian Council of Rehabilitation of Disabled (ACROD) to discuss the possible formation of a National Sports Council to facilitate the co-ordination of competitive sport for people with disabilities in Australia.

In attendance were representatives from ACROD, the Australian Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Council, Australian National Council for the Blind, and Australian Deaf Sports Federation. At the second meeting, two months later, a definite outline of the future role of this Organisation was defined, namely that it would co-ordinate sport for disabled people, and ACROD would continue to work in the recreation field. It was agreed to formally form such a body and prepare a draft constitution for consideration at the third Meeting.

Mr Graham Pryke was elected President of the Australian Sports Council for the Disabled (ASCD), a position he held until November 1986, by which time it had become the Australian Confederation of Sports for the Disabled.

The move to establish a national umbrella disability sport organisation had several drivers:

The first of these was the involvement of the federal government through funding and support for organised programs after the Whitlam Labor government (1972-75) appointed Frank Stewart as Australia’s first Federal Minister responsible for sport. Stewart defined the government’s role to include the full suite of sporting activity, from leisure pursuits and community sport to elite sport.

Stewart established an advisory body, the Sports Council, which recommended the adoption of the principle that the federal Department should only deal with one body per sport.  It supported equal treatment of organisations catering for athletes with a disability and, in this respect, sought the advice of the Australian Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled (ACROD).

This was the first time consideration was given to supporting sport and recreation for people with disabilities.  The Department provided assistance with fares to the Australian Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Council to send teams to national championships, the Commonwealth Paraplegic Games and the Stoke Mandeville Games in England.

The second driver was the introduction of events for non-spinal injury groups into the winter Paralympics in 1976 and then the 1976 summer Games. This meant that structures and organisations which had been established specifically for sport for those with spinal injuries had to expand to include other disability groups or that new groups would have to be established and embraced.

This is what happened with sport for amputee athletes, when Dr John Grant asked Dr Richard Jones, who had done a lot of work with amputee patients at the Prince Henry and Prince of Wales Hospitals, to identify athletes and set up an amputee sporting organisation. Jones identified Kerry Cosgrove, among others, and they both soon saw that Cosgrove’s skills as an administrator were more useful than as an athlete. Cosgrove went on to become a leading figure in the early years of the Australian Paralympic Federation.

The third driver was the conflict between the desire of athletes to compete and perform at the highest possible level and the interest of the rehabilitation professionals in sport as a tool for rehabilitation, rather than as a vehicle for elite competition.

While the rehabilitation professionals continued to control the agenda nationally, at state level, wheelchair sports clubs and associations were being established and gave athletes the opportunity to become actively involved in administration roles, especially in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. However, the athletes would soon find that the ASCD afforded them no greater influence than they had had previously.

A meeting at the Royal Adelaide Hospital led to the formation of the Australian Sports Council for the Disabled to facilitate the co-ordination of competitive sport for people with disabilities in Australia.