Event participant at Judo at European Para Championships
Aug 10 2023

IPC-president Andrew Parsons: ‘It’s amazing to be here’

Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, walks through Ahoy these days during the European Para Championships (EPC2023), on borrowed shoes. 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 calls his visit to Rotterdam very valuable. “It’s amazing to be here. I remember when I was first introduced to the concept a couple of years ago that 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, whether it’s games or championships, 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. Also from a development point of view it’s important, because for many countries here, like Kosovo, it represents a very good opportunity to go to an international multi-sport event, that it’s not the Paralympic Games, and gain some experience.”

Walking around Rotterdam, the 46 year old Brazilian is very enthusiastic. “It’s just amazing at what level this event has been delivered. The level of the services to the athletes, in terms of basic infrastructure such as accommodation, transport, venues and so is very high. But never forget also the experience that these athletes are having here. Some of them are still very young, some of them will not make it to the next Paralympic Games, but having this experience of a multi-sport event is really good for their careers.”

Although the IPC foreman had many meetings and meetings scheduled, Parsons (“thankfully so”) 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.”

Beside the Para Pan-American Games and the Asian Para Games, so now Europe, with the European Para Championships, has an umbrella event, a collection of (now still) ten European Championships. “There are many cultural, geopolitical and geographic differences in Europe, but it still makes sense, I understood the concept immediately. The people in Rotterdam have not seen limitations and dared to dream big. They are strengthening the Paralympic Movement by making new connections. These Championships will have a positive impact on parasport and communities across Europe.”

Parsons already believes in a continuation of the European Para Championships. “I’m really happy so far and as I said at the opening ceremony hopefully we’ll 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.”

It is, in Parsons’ eyes, an important experience to meet other athletes from other sports. “For a lot of European athletes the first international multi-sport event they attend is the Paralympic Games. And then it’s too much, it’s too big. Everything is happening at the same time, it’s an overwhelming experience. Being here helps to build up the pathway, create more opportunities. The Paralympic Games become less overwhelming.”

Moreover, for athletes who may never reach the Paralympic level, qualifying for the European Championships can be an aspiration. “That’s part of the sports pyramid, of course, that not everyone makes it to the Games. However, those athletes could potentially make it to the European level.” Parsons sees that on several continents smaller countries are developing precisely thanks to joint championships. “Today, for example, Guatemala is sending 20 competitors to the Para Pan-American Games. We didn’t think that was possible before.”

Over the past few days, Parsons met with many fellow administrators, including from sports federations that are considering joining 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.”

Whether swimming and athletics, the two largest paralympic sports, will eventually join the European Para Championships is also still a question for Parsons. Especially also because it raises the question “how big a championship like this can grow. Haste is not a good idea anyway. You present yourself with considerable logistical challenges when you add a lot of new athletes, and also sports that you can’t hold in a hall complex like Ahoy. You then have to add a swimming pool and a stadium, scale up in terms of size because you will have many more participants. Time will tell how big this event can grow, how many sports can hook up. That will also depend on who becomes the organizer of the next edition, of course.”

Although Parsons follows with great interest the UCI World Champioships Cycling in Glasgow, among others, where the program of able-bodied and disabled cyclists is integrated, the IPC president does guard against the misuse of paralympic sports. “If event integration offers more opportunities for paralympic sports, it is worth considering. But we have to guard against organizations adding one or two paralympic components and thereby saying they are inclusive. It’s not nice if organizers do this just to put a check mark on the inclusion issue.”

Finally, Parsons called the moment for the institution of the EPC2023 “perfect. This was the time to do it. This set-up now exactly meets the needs of the European para community.”

A championship like this, Parsons also believes, can serve as a catalyst for the development of sports in a country, region or city. 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.”

 

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