A target of dramatically increasing the number of Para-ice hockey players in Australia with the aim of qualifying for the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing has been set following the signing of a new agreement.
The Australian Para-ice Hockey Association (APIHA) and Paralympics Australia have announced a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate on programmes and initiatives which aims to significantly expand the participant base around Australia.
The move is seen an essential one in the pursuit of qualifying Australian men’s and women’s teams for the Winter Paralympic Games for the first time.
The Australian men’s team, known as the Para-IceRoos, made their first-ever international appearance at the 2018 World Para-ice Hockey Championships C-Pool for third-tier nations in Finland, returning home with the bronze medal.
Paralympics Australia’s chief executive Lynne Anderson claimed that, while significant progress has been made in recent years, the MoU will accelerate the sport’s growth.
"Para-ice hockey is a physical and very exciting sport which we believe Australian audiences will love when they get the chance to experience it," she said.
"Our intention is to continue to work closely with the APIHA to identify more athletes, coaches, admin support and classification opportunities, to ensure Australia is established as a power in the sport and to bolster our presence at the Winter Paralympic Games.
"There is a long road ahead, but with a capable and committed partner like APIHA, and other passionate organisations who are also right behind us, we are excited about the future for Para-ice hockey in Australia."
Through Paralympics Australia’s Para-sport Equipment Fund, Para-ice hockey programmes and individual athletes have already benefited from more than AUD$34,000 (£18,000/$23,500/€21,000) of ice hockey equipment in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland this year alone.
This work follows a grant issued to Paralympics Australia in 2018 to purchase equipment as part of the Pyeongchang 2018 and Agitos Foundation’s Equipment Grant Programme, in collaboration with World Para-ice Hockey.
The equipment, which included 21 Para-ice hockey sleds and sticks, as well as telescoping noses and picks, was distributed to organisations in multiple states.
APIHA President Pam Cavanagh revealed the next priority will be to create more competitive opportunities nationally.
"APIHA is currently working towards developing the first-ever National Championships in 2020, which will hopefully see teams from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia participate," Cavanagh said.
"Along with Paralympics Australia, we are also aligning with Ice Hockey Australia and collaborating on projects to increase the visibility of our development pathway.
"We want to make sure that if Australians with an eligible impairment want to play ice hockey, they know how to find us.
"We do recognise some programmes are operating independent of engagement with APIHA, and our desire is for all parties to work together to grow our sport.
"Ultimately, APIHA and Paralympics Australia share the same desire to see our nation succeed on the world stage and to create more opportunities for people to enjoy our sport and at all levels.
"Paralympics Australia has recognised our ability to play a lead role, and it’s a challenge we are excited to meet."