The European Para Championships have, after two weeks full of sports highlights, come to an end. The European Championships for ten paralympic sports took place in Rotterdam from August 8 to 20. More than 150 gold medals were awarded, but the organization considers the paralympic sport itself the big winner.
Organizer Eric Kersten looked back on the first edition of the European Para Championships with a sense of pride. The creator of the event for parasporters, who took the plunge years ago and saw his ideas come to life in Rotterdam, is a happy man. “We have put this event on the map for the future.”
Kersten: “The idea was to bring several sports together in one location and thus, for those sports, ensure that the sum would be greater than the sum of the parts. Well, 1 plus 1 was not 3. Nor was 10. But maybe even 25. We hear this everywhere. From sports federations, from coaches, from visitors, but especially from athletes. And that is heartening. Because these athletes deserve that.”
Tournament director Jeroen Straathof experienced many goosebump moments. “That could be a special action on the field, a statement. A moment of joy. Or a remarkable winner, like that Afghan taekwondoka. Fleeing her country, training in France and then winning the European Championship here as a member of the Refugee Team. But also that, for example, goalball on TikTok attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers, and the event generated a total of 1,320,000 live views, made me completely happy as a tournament director. It tells me that the parasport is now demanding and getting the attention it deserves.”
The events in the city were free to enter, nearly fifteen thousand visitors bought a ticket for the games in Ahoy. Wheelchair basketball in particular, with gold for the Dutch women and bronze for the men, was a crowd-puller. A large number of matches of the European Para Championships were finished in the city center of Rotterdam. The wheelchair tennis and boccia finals on Schouwburgplein attracted full stands, the archery competition on Kop van Zuid looked magical, as did the cycling relay in the Scheepvaartkwartier. Kersten: “We brought parasports to the people. It worked, judging by the reactions, judging by the full stands. Anyone who has come into contact with parasport these weeks will think differently in the years to come. That is the benefit that parasport brings with it.”
The European Para Championships will most likely appear on the calendar every four years. Linking European Championships in the year before the Paralympics, with tickets to those same Paralympics as a bonus, has proven to be a winning concept. Now the event had ten sports with archery, badminton, boccia, cycling, goalball, judo, shooting, taekwondo, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis, an expansion with several sports may be imminent. A good number of European cities have already expressed interest in hosting the European Para Championships in 2027.
Straathof is also pleased that, as tournament director, he gradually had time to explain parasport to a wider audience. “On the Schouwburgplein I invited a shopping couple to come and watch wheelchair tennis. I got into a conversation with those people and it turned out they had a son with a muscular disease. And, as it turned out, they were looking for a sport for their son. At a moment like that, I felt that we really mean something with this event. I think that’s the reason why we did this.”
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