3 September 2021

Why veteran Canberra coach Chris Nunn didn’t go to the Tokyo Paralympics

| Tim Gavel
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Chris Nunn. Photo: Supplied.

Chris Nunn is a passionate advocate for the Paralympics. Photo: Supplied.

You would be hard-pressed to find somebody with greater passion for the Paralympics than Canberra coach Chris Nunn.

A veteran of eight Paralympic campaigns with the Australian team since 1988 in various roles, including coach, operations manager and chef de mission, he has been at the forefront of the acceptance of Paralympic sport into the mainstream.

He stepped away from individual athlete coaching in 2004 to focus on his swim-school business at MacGregor. When he sold the business in 2010, he returned to Paralympic Australia as the Performance Manager.

But his effort has broadened beyond Australia’s shores.

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Now 62, his attention is very much on coach development both in Australia and the Pacific.

“I’m not coaching individuals anymore. My focus for the past decade or so has been on developing and mentoring coaches. I work with 30 to 40 coaches in the Pacific Islands and I mentored coaches with the Australian team at the Tokyo Paralympics.”

Chris Nunn is making a huge difference in the Pacific in his role as project coordinator with the Oceania Paralympic Committee. Photo: Supplied.

Chris Nunn is making a huge difference in the Pacific as project coordinator with the Oceania Paralympic Committee. Photo: Supplied.

His role as project coordinator with the Oceania Paralympic Committee, in which he works with coaches and Paralympians from seven countries, has also provided him with perspective.

Five of the seven island countries couldn’t go to the Paralympics because of COVID restrictions and the costs associated with quarantine upon returning home from the Paralympics. For Chris, this highlights a considerable inequity.

“Millions of dollars have been provided to help the Australian team be as successful as they can possibly be with pre-Games training camps and the costs of quarantining on their return to Australia taken care of,” says Chris.

“The Australian athletes are funded to perform when they get to the Games. With Pacific Island teams, we couldn’t raise enough funds to get a team of four into two to four weeks of quarantine on the way home. If you watched the teams who performed well, they are from well-funded countries. There are the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.”

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It was part of the reason he decided not to go to the Tokyo Paralympics.

“The accreditation I had for the Games meant that I would have been restricted in face-to-face contact with athletes and coaches I have been mentoring. I would have spent the majority of time in hotel rooms in Tokyo.”

His decision not to go to Tokyo in many respects is a cry to help the poorer nations in our region.

“Some countries are struggling, but what we are doing is changing lives for people in the Pacific Islands through Paralympic sport. In many cases, it has resulted in children being accepted into schools and living normal lives, providing them with self-esteem through sport and getting jobs. That’s the disappointing thing about them not being in Tokyo. It’s an opportunity lost.”

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In Australia, talks about inequity are also gaining traction, and the disparity between Olympians and Paralympians when it comes to financial rewards.

Not taking away from this important discussion in the Australian context, Chris Nunn is seeking greater support for Paralympians in the Pacific so they can participate at the same level as other countries, such as Australia.

As he reminds us, the ability to change lives through sport in this region is more than evident. Let’s hope his efforts can be rewarded through greater support for our Pacific Paralympic community.

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So true John Bell, thanks for explaining so well what Chris has achieved. And as everyone else has attested, he does it with positivity, passion and compassion. A great example to us all. I think Tim Gavel has unearthed a fan club with this great little story.

Hey Chris, I know of a half empty Institute of Sport with accomodation for visiting teams. Some modernisation and adaptations required but how awesome would it be to set that up as Oceania’s heart of Paralympian training. And what an amazing place that would be to work at. Just like when we both started at the AIS in 1990, but better ?

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