The ParaMatildas are back as Australia hosts 2023 IFCPF Asia-Oceania Championships

Above: Today’s gathering announcing Australia will host the IFCPF Asia-Oceania Championships with ParaMatildas, ParaRoos, and officials present. Photo: Mark Avellino/Football Australia.

by Ben Gilby (17/3/23).

Australia has been confirmed as the host of the men’s and women’s 2023 IFCPF Asia-Oceania Championships (Para Asian Cup) following a decision made by the International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football.  

It will be the first time ever a women’s Para Asian Cup competition will be contested and will also mark the first time the men’s and women’s Para Asian Cup will be held at the same time. 

The tournament will take place at the newly constructed Home of the Matildas at La Trobe University in Melbourne from 31 October – 12 November 2023 – further extending the amount of top-level women’s football competition taking place in Australia this year.

Speaking at the announcement that the tournament will be coming to Melbourne, ParaMatildas star Nicole Christodoulou said: “I’m still pinching myself that I’m a ParaMatilda. It is the most amazing thing in the whole world. We’re a team full of players, and to be here today, hosting the tournament for our families to be able to come and watch is amazing.

Above: ParaMatilda Nicole Christodoulou speaking at today’s media event. Photo: Mark Avellino/Football Australia.

“To have the support of the Australian people means the world to us. It means people with disabilities can flourish and be the best they can as humans. We are delighted we can provide a service to our country. We are very, very thankful.”

Christodoulou has long been an advocate for using sport to push her development and ability both in daily life and in all-round wellbeing. It was a theme she returned to so eloquently today.

“I was looking for acceptance, and to lose half my body, to lose me, I needed to find myself again. I had this thing in my brain – can I feel that emotion again when I play football? I do. I can do it now! I’ve learned so much about myself. From becoming a ParaMatilda a year ago to now, I am very thankful that opportunities can be provided to the 4.4 million people around the country (living with a disability) that would not have had this opportunity.”

“To be part of this – we’ll have young girls with CP, or brain injuries, or strokes looking up to us, having something to work towards, to have a purpose. Football is not just a sport, it is a way of life. If I didn’t have football, I wouldn’t have the things I also do in my life. It’s helped me physically, mentally, and emotionally.

“We are quality footballers. Just because we have a disability doesn’t mean we are not talented because we are!”

Above: Tahlia Blanchard – one of the stars of last year’s IFCPF World Cup – speaking to the media. Image: Football Australia.

Fellow ParaMatilda Tahlia Blanchard underlined the enormity of today’s announcement and what it means. “I was lucky enough to make my debut at the World Cup last year, which was an incredible experience. I would classify myself as someone relatively new to the sport, having my first introduction to CP football at the end of 2018. Now announcing a home Para Asia Cup is just incredible. I’m so excited that we can have everyone here to celebrate this occasion.

“This is such a big deal. My family hasn’t had the opportunity to watch me play this game besides on live streams. It’s incredible for the whole squad to have the opportunity to play in front of friends and families.”

Blanchard, who was one of the players of the tournament in last year’s inaugural IFCPF Women’s World Cup emphasised the wider importance of Australia hosting the Para Asian Cup.

“This is a major event for cerebral palsy sport and…many people are going to find this sport and find us through this event, and that’s something that is really important. I know that I didn’t have many people that I saw in the media when I was growing up that looked like me, and that made it hard. You can’t be who you can’t see.

“I’m really grateful that I was able to find my way into this sport, and it means a lot to me, and it will mean so much to the next generation as well. I believe that this can lead to more change. It means a lot to the greater disabled community. I’m proud to stand here as a cerebral palsy athlete.

“Cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury and stroke will now be talked about in Australian households and also we can continue the work to make this place a better and more inclusive world.”

“This will be an opportunity to grow the fan base and I can’t wait to see the stands full of people wanting to watch cerebral palsy football.”

Above: Nicole Christodoulou in action for the ParaMatildas at last year’s IFCPF Women’s World Cup. Photo: Marianna Galanoupoulos/Football Australia.

Football Australia CEO, James Johnson spoke of how excited his organisation is to deliver a game-changing tournament for Asia-Pacific’s para footballers. 

“Football Australia is thrilled and honoured to have won the hosting rights for this historic tournament in 2023.  We have a team within our organisation that is committed to para football and know we can deliver a tournament that demonstrates our passion, respect, and drive towards ensuring footballers of all abilities can proudly represent Australia and the Asia-Pacific region,” Johnson said. 

“To host a historic first-ever women’s Para Asian Cup will follow our co-hosting of a historic Women’s World Cup and part of our strategic vision through Legacy ‘23 to transform how women and girls in Australia see the full potential available to them through football.” 

“This will be a tournament delivered at a scale to elevate para football and provide current and new fans with another memorable and empowering experience while growing access to the game for players of all abilities.” 

The ParaMatildas are Australia’s national teams for footballers with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury or symptoms of stroke.  The two teams represent 4.4 million Australians living with disability.

CP is the most common disability in childhood, football is the most popular sport in the country with this tournament providing an opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness of the ability of para footballers to create a new generation of Australian sporting heroes.  

The ParaMatildas will be highly fancied to succeed in the tournament after they finished as runners-up to the USA in the inaugural IFCPF World Cup last year.

The Hon. Bill Shorten MP, Federal Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Government Services welcomed the announcement of the tournament being staged in Australia saying: “The International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football Asian Oceania Championship will showcase Australia as an exemplar of sporting prowess and inclusion. I congratulate everyone involved.”

Above: Tahlia Blanchard in action for the ParaMatildas at the IFCPF Women’s World Cup last year. Photo: Marianna Galanoupoulos/Football Australia.

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