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Equality, justice and a unique opportunity for change

Bridie Kean understood the concept of honesty from an early age. Very tender, actually.

“I think I was complaining about someone taking a crayon that wasn’t theirs,” she says of a childhood story her mother tells.

“My mother said that when I was in high school, I had what my teacher called ‘an acute sense of justice.’ It goes back to the way I was raised and was, I think, reinforced by the school I went to, which had social justice as a value.

“Now I work as a public health educator, where we teach the importance of equity and social justice from a public health perspective.”

Dr. Kean – a two-time Paralympic medalist, academic at the University of the Sunshine Coast and one of three alternate chiefs of the Australian Paralympic Paris 2024 team – can now bring her extensive experience to work on designing and establishing a truly fair Australian organisation. sports system.

As one of three new appointments to the Australian Sports Commission, Kean joins fellow Paralympian Kurt Fearnley and former Paralympics Australia CEO Lynne Anderson on the board, working under the leadership of new chair Kate Jenkins AO.

“It’s always an important time to be working in sport, but we now have an opportunity that I don’t think we’ll see again in my lifetime with the Brisbane Games,” Kean said.

“It’s a privilege to be involved now and play a role in what the future of sport in Australia will look like, especially for para-athletes and people with disabilities.

“I bring (to the ASC board) a perspective of both participation and top sport. I like bringing that together through a public health lens. When we think about how we can improve the lives of people with disabilities through sport, we have the Paralympic Games, but we also need to think about how we make participation in sport accessible to everyone with a disability who wants it. I always struggle with those two ends of the spectrum.

“I will have that high-end experience this year through the role of deputy chef, but the ASC board is about finding ways to use the sports system so that everyone can be involved in the future.”

Australia Paralympic Games CEO Catherine Clark said Kean’s appointment would further strengthen and broaden the diversity of experiences and perspectives, supporting the push for a fairer and more accessible Australian sporting system.

“Bridie will be an incredible asset to the ASC board, expanding her already significant impact on our sports system through her various other roles,” said Clark.

“We are both very excited about the opportunity that a Home Games presents, and we also talked about the sense of responsibility to get it right. I know how alive Bridie is for the opportunities we will have over the next eight years.

“Bridie brings a wealth of experience and expertise from her personal and professional journey, as well as her deep connections within our Paralympic community.”

Those connections came only after Kean endured early experiences of exclusion. Her mother regularly played basketball and her father played Australian rules football.

“My older sister was also a great athlete,” she says. “There’s a picture of my sister and I and we’re both holding ribbons from a Little Athletics carnival. I thought, ‘Oh, I can’t believe I won a ribbon,’ because I always remember finishing last in everything.

“That was my reality. I would never win anything because there was no inclusive sport for me to participate in. I was ashamed that I wasn’t competitive.”

As she became a teenager, Kean felt further away from sport than ever.

“I grew up thinking it was really unfair. My family all loved sports and it wasn’t fair that I had to sit on the sidelines. I was very angry about that as a teenager, because I didn’t have a path.

“I didn’t have the ambition to become an Olympian, I just wanted to play. When I saw the Paralympic Games in Sydney, I saw it as an opportunity to exercise. That was more important to me than high performance. I just wanted equal opportunities to play sports. Once I came across wheelchair basketball, I was finally able to play without limitations.”

It changed Kean’s life. She traveled extensively, including playing for the University of Illinois on a scholarship, a season in Germany’s top flight and most of a decade as a member of the Gliders, Australia’s women’s national team. She was part of the bronze medal-winning team at Beijing 2008 and captained the silver medal-winning team at London 2012.

Along the way, Kean has learned from exceptional leaders. It is perhaps unsurprising that she counts Paralympic legend Liesl Tesch among her biggest influences. It was Tesch who encouraged Kean to play wheelchair basketball in Sydney 2000.

“Now I see Liesl navigating her life (as a member of the NSW Parliament) with so much passion, so much humility and always with such a sense of social justice through her various roles. She is inspiring.”

Other role models in Kean’s life include her mother Mary, who also worked in healthcare and ‘always has a great sense that everyone has a role to play in the system’, and her discipline leader at the university, Associate Professor Jane Taylor, a renowned health promoter and equity researcher.

“Now I also have the privilege of working with Kate McLoughlin, who listens so attentively, focuses on what needs to be done and executes things with such passion,” she says of the Australian Paralympic team’s Chef de Mission. “Being involved with her as her deputy, I see good leadership every day.”

Such influences and experiences position Kean well for her central role on the ASC board.

“Equality is about trying to make sure that all people have access to the same experience, or as close as we can get,” she says.

“If we apply that to a Paralympian compared to an Olympian, the Paralympian may need an additional resource to get the same opportunity to train properly. They may need accessible training facilities to gain the same experience as their Olympic counterpart.

“It is a good example of what we can achieve in society. People with disabilities generally face barriers to education or employment. These principles can relate to different aspects of life. Ensuring that people have the same experience when they go to school, an event at a stadium or using public transport – it’s about focusing on equality to achieve those outcomes.”

By David Sygall, Australia Paralympics

Published on May 29, 2024.

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