Roller Blacks struggle for funding
May 7, 2019
The New Zealand government invests $66 million in sport each year but Roller Blacks wheelchair basketball player Slade O’Rorke St John still can’t make it his full-time job.
Wheelchair basketball was a fun hobby O’Rorke St John, 23, used as a “distraction” when life was stressful. He was paralysed after an injury aged 6.
He was introduced to the sport in 2013 and soon found himself in the New Zealand under 23 side which became the first junior team to win an international competition in 2016.
In 2017 he travelled to China to play for the Roller Blacks, New Zealand’s highest ranked team, in the 2017 Oceanic qualifiers. They missed out on progressing to the World Championship.
Wheelchair Basketball New Zealand contributed the Roller Black’s losses to “a lack of international match play”. The Roller Blacks had only re-established in 2011 after a decade hiatus.
Despite frequent representation at a national level, O’Rorke St John received no financial support from the government. The only grant he received was from charitable organisation The Halberg Trust, who contributed $3000 of the $10,000 required for a replacement wheelchair after his first one wore out.
“Everything we do comes out of our own pockets. Funding would mean we could attend tournaments and training camps without having to worry about the financial side of things and just focus on playing basketball,” said O’Rorke St John.
While playing was important to O’Rorke St John, he felt it was especially meaningful to the wheelchair basketball players of the Invictus team he coached free of charge. He described them as “salt of the earth” type people.
The side reached the semi-finals of the Invictus Games in Sydney in 2018 having never won a game before. O’Rorke St John was elated with the result and was even told off for watching them on his work computer. He wanted to be there, but would have had to pay his own way.
New Zealand Invictus wheelchair basketball player Tiny Graham said O’Rorke St John’s coaching had been “fantastic”.
Graham believed sport was an important aspect of recovery for war veterans and their families and hoped additional funding would be available in the future. This would make the sport more accessible to people from all walks of life.
“Considering the cost of sporting wheelchairs [funding would be] a huge weight off anyone’s shoulders as they aren’t cheap. Add to that the administrative costs for a wheelchair based sportsperson to attend events, these overall costs start to accumulate to big figures.”
O’Rorke St John valued the sense of community playing wheelchair basketball added to his life, but wished he had more time and money to commit to it.