Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), is very enthusiastic about the inaugural edition of the European Para Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The event, that includes ten different para sports, takes place between 8 and 20 August. “It’s just amazing at which level this event has been delivered. The level of the services to the athletes, in terms of basic infrastructure such as accommodation, transport and venues is very high.”
Parsons (46) says his visit to Rotterdam is very valuable. “It’s amazing to be here. I remember when I was first introduced to the concept a couple of years ago, I thought: wow, this is very ambitious. But at the same time I thought it was the right idea, the right concept, at the right time. I do believe that the concept of bringing sports together is important. Because we create a high level impact here. If you have all the ten European championships in different parts of Europe in different periods, we will not have the same impact as we will have here.”
At the European Para Championships in Rotterdam, ten sports are on display: Para archery, Para badminton, Boccia, Para cycling, Goalball, Para judo, shooting Para sport, Para taekwondo, Wheelchair basketball and Wheelchair tennis.
Although the IPC foreman from Brazil had many meetings scheduled, Parsons also found time to take a seat in the stands. “I’ve been to boccia and judo and saw a very good level, some very thrilling games. The energy is there, the enthusiasm is there. And again, the venues are great, services are great. This is real European Championships level. That’s why the athletes and the national federations are very happy. And so am I.”
Parsons walks through Rotterdam Ahoy on borrowed shoes, because his suitcase got lost at Schiphol Airport. “I had a suit, but I was missing a tie, belt and a pair of good shoes. Eric Kersten, chairman of the organizing committee, immediately offered me a pair of his, size 43. Within an hour, my problem was solved. It may seem like a small thing, but for me it marks the flexibility, the thoroughness, the solution orientation of this organization. If you can also pay attention to such details during an event, you are capable of much more.”
Parsons believes in a continuation of the European Para Championships, a Dutch initiative. “At the opening ceremony I said that we hopefully will have a next edition in 2027, 2031 and so on, I would really like this event to be a permanent event every four years in the international calendar.”
Parsons believes that continental events are very important for the development of paralympic sport in that continent. “An event like this is a very important part of the pathway that takes athletes from grassroots to the Paralympic Games level. The chance to qualify for the Games through regional championships or games is fundamental, it also helps countries that are not on Paralympic Games level yet, to make some important steps.”
Worldwide, 1.2 billion people have physical and/or mental disabilities. “Sure, with the Paralympics we create the conditions for top athletes to excel. But we are also trying to create more opportunities for disabled people worldwide, by inspiring people. The development of the disabled athlete does not start at the top, but at the base. That can also happen here, in Rotterdam. If people get something from this championship, it can encourage them - even if they have a disability - to start moving. Our motto is Change Starts With Sport. That can be in Guatamala, in Burundi or in Vietnam, but also in Rotterdam.”
Over the past few days, Parsons met federations that are considering to join another combined European Championship. Table tennis and wheelchair rugby, among others, are very interested. “Whether they will be there by 2027, I don’t know. That's not up to me either. But in any case, I think they will leave here with a good impression again. I think most will realize that this is a good setup within which many sports can also excel.”
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