Yesterday, Australian disability sport administrator Marie Little passed away. She was involved with disability sport and sport administration in Australia and internationally for over forty years.
From 1993 to 1997, Little was a member of the Member of the International Paralympic Committee’s Executive Board. She holds the distinction of being the first woman to serve in this role. Little also served on the executive board of INAS-FID, the IPC recognized organization for athletes with intellectual disabilities. Following the removal of athletes with intellectual disabilities from the Paralympic programme as after the cheating scandal in 2000, Little worked tirelessly to allow them to compete again at the Paralympic Games.
Inside Australia, Little was an advocate for athletes with intellectual disabilities, and was a major force in guiding their inclusion into the domestic sport scene. In 1982, she was elected as the first president of South Australian Sport and Recreation Association for People with Integration Difficulties Incorporated. In 1986, Little founded the Australian Sport and Recreation Association of People with an Intellectual Disability and served as the organization’s president until she retired in 2011. In 1992, she served as the Chef de Mission of the Australian Team at the Paralympic Games for ‘Persons with mental handicap’, which were held immediately after the conclusion of the 1992 Summer Paralympics in Barcelona.
In 1990, Little was one of the founding directors of the Australian Paralympic Federation, and continued to be involved, and served on the board until 1994. She went on to serve as the organization’s president in 1996 and 1997, and was very involved in transitioning the organization towards more professionalism following the 1996 Summer Paralympics.
Little was also very involved with the Australian hosted 2000 Summer Paralympics, serving on the board of the Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee from 1993 to 1998 and acting as the Vice-President for all but her first year.
Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) Chairman Glenn Tasker is quoted in an APC press release as saying, “The Australian Paralympic movement is deeply saddened by Marie’s passing. Our deepest condolences are with Marie’s family and many friends.
“Marie’s contribution to sport for people with a disability is immeasurable and she leaves a legacy that will continue to make a positive impact on people’s lives for many years to come.
“After first advocating for inclusion of people with an intellectual impairment into community sport in the 1970s, Marie became a shining example of how an individual with passion, humility, drive and commitment can make a difference.
“With a netball background, Marie’s work eventually made an impact across many sports and many levels and ultimately led to the inclusion of people with an intellectual impairment at one of the world’s biggest sporting events – the Paralympic Games.”
Past president of the APC Greg Hartung is quoted in an APC press release as saying, “Marie Little was a rare gem. She was tough and resilient – and she had a heart of pure gold.
“Marie was truly authentic – there was nothing phoney or fake about her. She never shirked what she saw as her duty to defend and protect those less able to do it themselves. She knew what needed to be done, and she did it without fear or favour.
“Over the decades that I knew Marie, she was never afraid to go out on a limb for what she believed. When others might have taken the easy way, Marie took the road less travelled.
“High on the list of Marie’s personal traits were integrity and courage. She may not have been text book in her approach, but she knew instinctively what leadership demanded. This was evident in the way she championed the interests of athletes with an intellectual disability, in Australia and internationally. It was about serving, not ruling!
“She had a fundamental commitment to fairness and was able to tell the difference between right and wrong. Her contribution to sport, and especially to athletes with an intellectual disability, will be one of her lasting legacies.
Little also served as the President of the Hamilton Amateur Basketball Association. She produced a women’s sport radio show during the 1960s for 3HA Hamilton.
Originally from Hamilton, Victoria where she attended Mount St Michael’s College and Hamilton High School, Victoria, Little later moved to South Australia where she earned a degree from the Adelaide University in 1971. She is survived by four children.