Australian Paralympic flag bearer and Steelers captain Ryley Batt is ready to take on the challenge of hunting for a third successive Wheelchair Rugby gold ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Batt, who made his debut at Athens in 2004 as a 15-year-old, will captain the number one-ranked Steelers when the Wheelchair Rugby competition commences on August 25.
The 32-year-old was also named flag bearer and co-captain of the Australian Paralympic team alongside wheelchair table-tennis legend Danni Di Toro, hoping they can inspire the country during a difficult period
“It’s an extreme honour and I’m super proud to share this moment with Danni at a special Paralympic Games,” Batt said in a statement.
“The world’s going through a lot of negativity at the moment, but this is a hugely positive thing for Australia.
“Danni and I are just being ourselves and bringing this mob together. There’s so many different sports in our Team and people who don’t see each other across the four-year cycle – five years this time – so we’re just being our friendly selves, making sure everyone communicates.
“I think that’s how we live. We don’t have to try to be leaders. I think it’s just a natural thing for us to be friendly with everyone and help create this massive sense of community within the Australian Team.”
Batt was born without legs and avoided using a wheelchair for the first 12 years of his life, opting to use a skateboard as his method of transport.
He would take up using a wheelchair and the sport, inspired when someone stole his board, helping Australia to silver at Beijing before going one step further in London and Rio.
As he emerged as one of greatest players in the history of the sport, he was thrust further into the spotlight during the 'Rising Phoenix' documentary, which looked at the history of the Games and how it affects the global understanding of disability, diversity and excellence.
“I think it was very well done,” Batt told SEN’s Mornings with Matt White on the documentary.
“I didn’t expect it to be so well done and so big, to be honest. When I did my interviews, I was halfway through a tournament in Japan so I was exhausted so didn’t know what to expect.
“They put that documentary together fantastically, so many inspiring stories and I get a lift out it. I don’t like seeing my own parts, seeing myself on TV but it’s bloody awesome for the Paralympic movement.
“Kids these days without disabilities are now looking at Paralympians as idols and heroes and I think that’s amazing, it’s crazy how far it’s come and how Australia’s embraces the Paralympics and people with disabilities."
With Australia entering as the reigning gold medalists, a match against world champions Japan looms as the blockbuster group stage clash on Friday.
The Aussies will be out for revenge after their one-point loss in the World Championships in 2018, however, Batt was quick to maintain their focus on their opening match of the Games against Denmark on Wednesday
“We’re trying to go three in a row. We’ve got an absolute mammoth of work in front of us but we're up to the challenge,” he said. “Two weeks of hard work and dedication and sacrifice after the last five years of work we've done is nothing. We're ready to put it all on the table.
“…Denmark’s going to be a tough game but I think we've got a very good draw with them being first up. They're probably the lowest-ranked team in our pool, still going to be a hard one.
“France in the next game is a bit of a dark horse, a little nervous for that one but if we play well we should get the job done and then an absolute war against Japan.
“We've had quite the rivalry over the last few years. We've got the upper hand on them with win/loss ratio but who knows how they've been going through lockdown and what they’ve been doing.”
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This year's team will see a historic first for the Steelers, as Shae Graham becomes the first woman to play for Australia.
Batt praised her commitment and dedication to the program despite admitting initial nerves to Graham's inclusion.
“Wheelchair rugby is a mixed sport but it's been dominated by males since I've been a part of it,” Batt said.
“I think it's amazing. Shae Graham - the first-ever female wheelchair rugby Paralympian to join the Australian team.
"She just fits in so bloody well. When she first came into the team I was a bit nervous, didn’t want to run into her too hard and was careful with what I said but to be honest, she’s given it way back harder than she gets so she fits in perfectly.”
AUSTRALIA STEELERS SQUAD FOR TOKYO 2020 WHEELCHAIR RUGBY
Ryley Batt, Chris Bond, Andrew Edmondson, Ben Fawcett, Shae Graham, Andrew Harrison, Josh Hose, Jake Howe, Jason Lees, Michael Ozanne, Richard Voris, Jayden Warn
AUSTRALIA'S WHEELCHAIR RUGBY PARALYMPIC SCHEDULE
*All games LIVE on Channel 7 and 7Plus
Wednesday August 25 at 3pm - AUSTRALIA v DENMARK
Thursday August 26 at 6:30pm - AUSTRALIA v FRANCE
Friday August 27 at 3pm - AUSTRALIA v JAPAN