Thursday, October 22, 2020
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‘I don’t like who I am on court’

Ryley Batt
Ryley Batt is widely regarded as the best player in the world

On court, Australian wheelchair rugby star Ryley Batt is a player to be feared – tough, uncompromising, a shaven head and full of attitude.

He is a major part of why Australia are the top-ranked team in the world and two-time defending Paralympic champions in the sport.

But the 31-year-old says there are two sides to his personality.

“I guess I’m pretty laid back off court but I don’t like who I am on court – I’m not a nice guy,” he told BBC Sport.

“I like to trash-talk and fire up other players. That’s what you do.

“I’ve copped it my entire career. I started aged 13 playing against grown men. They used to try to get into my head so now I am giving it back.

“I probably talk too much sometimes but I’ve got better as I’ve got older. It is just the competitiveness coming out of me and the adrenalin in my system – that is why we play sport.

“When the nerves kick in and you have 11 mates with you representing your country, that makes you super competitive.”

The postponement of the Tokyo Paralympics until 2021 has presented new challenges for Batt, who is the co-captain of the Australia team for the Games alongside veteran table tennis player Daniela Di Toro.

Ryley Batt
Batt sported a mop of curly hair when he was the youngest player at the Athens Paralympics

Born without legs and with no webbing on his hands and four fingers on his hand, Batt refused to use a wheelchair as a youngster and used to get around on a skateboard using his hands for brakes.

But his view was changed by wheelchair rugby – better known as Murderball – and he made his debut for the Australian Steelers in 2002 before appearing at his first Paralympics two years later in Athens aged 15.

Silver in Beijing in 2008 was followed by gold at London 2012 and Batt and team-mates then went on to retain their crown in Rio, beating the USA by one goal in double overtime.

His heroics have made him one of the stars of the new Paralympic documentary Rising Phoenix, which has just launched on Netflix, but the global pandemic has been something totally different for Batt to deal with.

“I’ve been struggling – this has been one of the hardest times in my career, but you just have to focus on the positives,” said the man from Port Macquarie, north of Sydney.

“Covid is a challenge, but athletes are a small piece of the pie. There are so many worse off than us.

“It has been tough because we can’t see people face-to-face and we have been trying to connect over the internet but it has been nice to spend time with my family.

“No athlete has been sitting at home doing nothing. We’ve been modifying our training in different ways and I think that makes you a strong person.

“One of the things we are talking about at the moment as a team is mental health, which is massively important. There is a stigma around guys, in particular, that mental health is something you don’t speak about, but it is time to open up and nobody is going to criticise you for opening up.”

Australia were beaten in the 2018 World Championship final by Japan and after the tournament Batt, who has had a number of shoulder and elbow problems to deal with, took a short break from the sport to regroup before Tokyo.

And while there is uncertainty over whether coronavirus will allow the Games to take place, Batt refuses to confirm whether Tokyo will be his last Games.

Ryley Batt with his 2012 Paralympic gold
Batt’s efforts at the London Games saw him shortlisted for the 2012 Australian Paralympian of the Year

“There definitely is a fear that 2021 won’t happen, but for us as a team and me as an individual, I want to make sure we are the most prepared we can be,” he said.

“If the Games do happen, it will be my fifth and it will be different to what any of us have experienced before.

“I’d love to get another gold and we have a young team and they could improve more in a year.

“This isn’t the way I want to go out, so we will see what happens.”



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