Dr. John Bourke, a life member of Disability Sports & Recreation Victoria and a prominent figure in the Paralympic movement, passed away on December 26, 2022, just days before his 75th birthday. John was involved in sports injuries clinics and local rugby union clubs in Dunedin, New Zealand, before he began working with sports for persons with disabilities at the 1974 Commonwealth Games for Paraplegic Sport.
He later served as a doctor for the New Zealand Paralympic team at the Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games and the Sydney FESPIC (Far East and South Pacific athletes with a disability) Games team in 1977. John was involved in the FESPIC movement as a board member and medical advisor until the organization disbanded after the 2006 Games in Kuala Lumpur.
John was also a board member of the Australian Paralympic Federation from 1985 to 1995 and attended numerous Paralympic Games as a team doctor. He was an inaugural member of the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games organizing committee. From 1992 to 2008, he played a leading role in the anti-doping field as part of the IPC Medical Committee. He was also the first ever head of classification for IPC Athletics (World Para Athletics), playing a pivotal role in the development of classification in Para Athletics. He was involved in several Paralympic Games up to Beijing 2008.
John was known for his honesty, integrity, and boundless positive work ethic. He was respected throughout the Paralympic movement and had a significant impact on the development of Para sport globally, particularly in the area of classification. Andrew Parsons, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president, expressed his condolences and said that John's work in classification underpinned the sport.
Paul Fitzgerald, head of World Para Athletics, added "As our first-ever Head of Classification, he played a pivotal role in the development of Para athletics, and those efforts will always be part of the history and development of our sport. His impact and professionalism will continue to be felt for years to come."
Although John's achievements as a doctor, classifier, and board member are well documented, those who knew and worked with him remember him for his great sense of humour, fun-loving nature, and wise counsel.
His passing is a great loss to the Paralympic movement, and he will be missed by all who knew him.