Raymon Blondel & Eric Kersten
Feb 22 2023

Interview EPC founder Eric Kersten

"The crux is to convince everyone of the unique opportunity to write (para)sports history together!"

A groundbreaking multi-sport tournament like the European Para Championships does not come into being in a month, or even in a year. The development took years. Eric Kersten, EPC’s Founder, has been working on EPC since day 1. We spoke to Eric about the creation of the idea, the biggest challenges and how the ten sports involved were chosen.

Eric Kersten (47) went into business in 1998, right after finishing his sports economics studies. In almost 25 years, his company grew from an attic to a permanent team of fifteen people in a sports office in Oss. Together with a large flexible shell, they build beautiful sports events and brands.

Eric, how did the idea for the European Para Championships originate with you?

We organize sporting events, including a large number of official European Championships and World Championships. In 2015, we received a request from the UCI, the international cycling federation, to organize the World Para Cycling Championships on the track. Of course, we accepted this challenge and that’s when the ball started rolling for us. The tournament in Apeldoorn was a resounding success and we received a lot of positive feedback from the riders.

After that great experience, we started to commit to parasport more often. After the World Championship in 2015, no less than three World Championships followed in one year for us in 2019: the World Paracycling Championship on the track, the World Paracycling Championship on the road and the World Para Archery Championship. The latter tournament was coupled with the valid variant, held in the same period, at the same location in Den Bosch. In both variants, we saw full stands with over 3,500 spectators and plenty of media attention. An enormous success, and proof that Para Archery is also very attractive to sports enthusiasts. After the World Para Archery Championship several athletes came to thank us. We even heard from them that the event felt like the Paralympics in every way, with even more public interest.

They hit the nail on the head for us. Unfortunately, it is not easy to get full stands for Paralympic sports. Fortunately, we have seen, for example in Den Bosch, that it helps enormously if you bring parasports to the people. Organize the competitions at an accessible location in the heart of a large city and you immediately create interest in the sport, even if it is less known to the general public.

“Retrospectively, I would refer to that as the moment when the idea for the European Para Championships was born.”

In 2018, the first European Championships took place in Glasgow. A multi-sport tournament with several able-bodied sports under one umbrella. That’s when the penny dropped for me. This should also be possible for parasports! In retrospect, I would refer to that as the moment when the idea for the European Para Championships was born.

Then we started mapping the total playing field at the office. Which summer sports have an active para segment? When do they hold their European Championships? For each sport, what does the landscape look like and which federations play which role? We quickly found out that the world of parasports is a complex one; some sports have a European Championship every year, others every other year and in some cases a sport does not even have a European Championship at all.

After careful consideration, we started to focus on sports that originally schedule their European Championships in odd-numbered years. We then approached NOC*NSF and the national sports federations and explained our plan. Eventually, the international sports federations were also involved and it turned out that there were ten sports that wanted to host their European Championships in EPC 2023. The most important piece of the puzzle was thus laid.

Continental Games

Fortunately, the European Paralympic Committee also backed our plans. The concept was designated as ‘Continental Games’. This meant that we were no longer ‘just’ a combination of ten official European Championships, but that we were also labeled top sports-relevant. This is crucial, because that label makes us an event at which (direct) qualification for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris can be earned. Combined with the fact that all European Championships take place in one city in a two-week time frame in this way, that also makes a much more powerful story to the media than before. Broadcasters suddenly see much more benefit in broadcasting the parasports. And that is exactly what the parasports really deserve!

When was Rotterdam chosen?

It was in March 2021, to be exact. We chose Rotterdam because this city fits the event’s DNA and our long-term goals. We are going to have the EPC return every 4 years, in the year preceding the Paralympic Games, in a different large, appealing European city each time. If we look at past European Championships of most Paralympic sports, unfortunately they often took place in venues that are not exactly A-status. We think these sports deserve better. In Rotterdam, with venues in the city center and in Ahoy, we guarantee top quality. Furthermore, the EPC is a tough job in terms of logistics, because we need an awful lot of hotel capacity, for example. Rotterdam offers all this. We are therefore super happy that the city of Rotterdam has embraced the EPC!

What were the first challenges to overcome?

The difficulty is that you have to deal with a lot of different stakeholders, who all want to participate in a new-to-you concept. It was a challenge to get things like the government, the host-city, the (international) sports associations, the broadcasters and the funding all aligned. In sports, but in parasports in particular, you quickly end up in a web of opinions and interests. Everyone is waiting and watching each other. The trick is to break that waiting, vicious circle. And we managed to do that! The crux is to convince everyone of the unique opportunity to write (para)sports history together.

How was the choice of the ten sports made?

Part of it came purely from the existing timing of the European Championships. We looked at all of them and strived to accommodate as many of them as possible. Unfortunately, that didn’t fit in every case. The sitting volleyball European Championships had already been assigned to another country, so we could draw a line through that for 2023, just to give one example. What was nice to see is that some sports even proactively applied and connected with us. We are enormously proud of the ten sports that will be part of the EPC in 2023. And who knows what 2027 and 2031 will bring us!

This is part 1 of the interview with Founder Eric Kersten about the development of the European Para Championships. The continuation of this interview will follow soon here on the website. Don’t want to miss a single news article? Follow our socials and subscribe to our newsletter below!

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