Minister Conny Helder at  Wheelchair Basketball at European Para Championships
Aug 21 2023

Eric Kersten: ‘We have put this event on the map for the future’

Eric Kersten looks back on the first edition of the European Para Championships with a sense of pride at the end of two strenuous, but oh-so-worthwhile weeks. The creator of the event for Para athletes, 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: “he 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.”

“We have – including easy access to all venues – literally laid out the red carpet for the athletes. And they are very grateful for that. I’ve organized so many events where I never actually hear back from the participants, but parasport athletes do share their feelings. They would have said the same thing if they had reason to complain.”

Kersten was very proud of the choice his organization made to also finish a large number of matches in Rotterdam’s city center. The wheelchair tennis and boccia finals on Schouwburgplein drew full stands, the archery on Kop van Zuid looked magical, as did the cycling relay in Scheepvaartkwartier. “We wanted to bring the parasport to the people, persuade shoppers to take a look and win for boccia or wheelchair tennis, for example. That worked, judging by the reaction of those people, judging by the full stands. Those who came into contact with parasports these weeks will think differently in the years to come. That is the profit you take away as a sport, which ensures that you get firmer ground under your feet.”

In Ahoy, the cross-pollination in particular worked. Fifteen thousand visitors bought a ticket. “We saw many supporters who had come for the wheelchair basketball, for example, and ‘just went’ to see boccia or goalball, a sport totally unknown to them. But then were captivated by that. All in all, we had full stands everywhere. So that’s where the sports benefit from each other.”

The smallest things were thought of by Kersten and his organization. “Of course you take into account in advance that at the wheelchair basketball games, in addition to 1,000 or more able-bodied spectators, at least 100 wheelchair users must also be able to sit along the court. But we talked to many para-athletes in the run-up to the European Para Championships and asked how we could make their experience even better, so that they could perform optimally. Then you end up with special requests that you would never have thought of yourself. Such as? An outlet, near the venue, for the guide dogs. Well, something like that is of course always achievable, as long as you think about it.”

Kersten wanted to set a new standard for paralympic events with the European Para Championships. “As an organizer, you always have a number of nice-to-haves in addition to the need-to-haves. The nice-to-have drop out when it makes sense, for example from a budgetary point of view. But for the European Para Championships we didn’t hold back. We have a long-term vision. We had to put down this event, with top locations, good hotels, optimal transport, the best TV coverage. If you then also have the very knowledgeable people of Team TOC at your disposal, and lots of good volunteers, then you impress the whole world.”

 

From Day 1, Kersten envisioned that the European Para Championships should have a permanent place on the calendar. Linking European Championships in the year before the Paralympics, with tickets to those same Paralympics as a bonus for winners, it 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 is imminent. Many federations took a look at Rotterdam. “We even heard that other sports federations booked a plane ticket to the Netherlands last week when they heard that something magical was happening here. Surely they had to see what was happening here.” In particular, table tennis, wheelchair rugby, fencing and blind soccer already showed a lot of interest in joining before 2027. “The more paralympic sports are eventually at the European Para Championships, the nicer of course”, he said.

It was initially quite difficult to get governments, sponsors and sports organizations excited. After all, there were no slick videos of previous editions, no glowing figures. “We had no photos, no scripts of previous editions. Yes, we did have an artist impression. But basically anyone can make those. They had to take our word for it. But had confidence in it. And now we do have them, those images, those memories, those beautiful stories. We can really go through with that. And that’s nice to show.”

A good number of European cities have already shown interest for 2027. “Beforehand, we would never have dared to dream that there would be so many candidates right away, large European cities besides. It’s great that we can follow this up quickly. The athletes who have made this event such a great success deserve that.”

 

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