We recently spoke with Faouzi Achbar, Alderman for Welfare, Living Together, Sport and Digital Inclusion of the Municipality of Rotterdam. As the main person in charge of sports in our host city, it was hugely interesting to speak to him about the EPC, para sports, inclusivity and sustainability. Read the outcome of the Q&A below!
- Zooming out for a moment to the bigger picture than just the municipality of Rotterdam; are you, as a Dutchman, proud of the fact that the European Para Championships (EPC) concept was founded in the Netherlands and in four years’ time, after hopefully a great first edition in Rotterdam, will grow to another major European city?
Yes, immensely proud! It shows that in the Netherlands we think it is important that everyone is allowed and able to participate. The strength of the European Para Championships lies in the combination of small and big sports into one big event, and the guarantee that all sports are broadcasted. Very smart to apply that bundling to paralympic sports as well. This will give the performances of the participating athletes the stage they deserve. I’m sure the public will be impressed by the performances that will on display. And I hope it will inspire them to take up their own challenges.
- And then straight back to your municipality; why is it so important for Rotterdam to host the very first edition of the European Para Championships?
Rotterdam is a city with opportunities for everyone. For young and old, whether you were born here or not. This is also reflected in the events we have already organized in Rotterdam. I was told that Rotterdam stuck its neck out to the international federation to combine the World Table Tennis Championships with the World Para Table Tennis Championships back in 2011. But Rotterdam has also already hosted the 2016 Para Triathlon World Cup, the 2018 Sit Volleyball World Cup, and the 2019 Wheelchair Basketball European Championships. And for 15 years, Rotterdam has proudly hosted the wheelchair tennis tournament that takes place simultaneously as part of the ABN Amro Open. The combination of multiple paralympic sports at the European Para Championships brings attention to paralympic sport in the city, and strengthens Rotterdam. Both in the image of our city, and in the further future of being an even more inclusive city. And that is why it is fantastic that we can host this first edition.
- In what ways does the municipality of Rotterdam support the European Para Championships 2023?
The municipality of Rotterdam supports with a subsidy and by deploying its network. Important help comes from various organizations in the city, such as Rotterdam Topsport, Rotterdam Sportsupport, Sportbedrijf Rotterdam and SportMEE. They help make the event a success, ensure that as many Rotterdam citizens as possible know about it, and that it also has a visible effect in the city afterwards. For example by introducing ‘Rotterdammers’ with and without a disability to the possibilities of playing sport if you have a disability. By showing them all the possibilities we have in Rotterdam. There are so many different providers where people with disabilities are welcome and can play sports, but they are not always found. We want to change this.
- During the EPC, counterparts from several major European cities will visit your city during the observer program, with a view to possibly hosting EPC 2027 in their city. In your view, why is it so important for a sports-oriented, influential municipality to embrace a major parasports event?
Embracing parasports shows that everyone matters. I also explained this in my earlier answer about the importance of the EPC for Rotterdam. I think this should apply to every city.
Moreover, for every influential sports city, in my view, organizing a complex multi-sport event like the EPC strengthens its international position as a sports city. This leads to chances of allocation of beautiful, impactful events in the future. Thus, time and again, a stage for athletes, and a platform for socially relevant developments is available.
- The organization of the European Para Championships regards sustainability as a key topic. This theme weighs heavily in important decisions in the organizational process. Can the same be said about your municipality? Is sustainability an important issue for you?
Yes indeed. Rotterdam is facing a major challenge. The city is growing, air quality is worse than in many other places in the Netherlands and we are increasingly facing the effects of climate change. Without commitment to sustainability, there is no promising future for a port city like Rotterdam. That requires investments in, for instance, sustainable construction, new energy and circular use of materials. For me, it is also about investing in sustainable behavior. Encouraging people to walk and cycle more often, so that they themselves become healthier. Better health is one of my spearheads and that is what I focus on with sports policy, for all target groups. But nature and environmental education and, for example, the children’s farms are also important in this. Here, children learn about nature, and about sustainable coexistence with nature.
- Besides supporting top-level sports, the municipality of Rotterdam also pursues an active policy to make adapted sports accessible to everyone who needs it. How does the municipality do that?
Just as we have been organizing top sports events for people with disabilities for a long time already, we have long been committed to making sports more accessible for our citizens with a disability. We have been doing this for over 10 years, together with our cooperation partners. This is not just about physical accessibility of sports facilities, but also about (financial) support of sports and exercise providers in setting up or adapting their sports facilities to meet the wishes and needs of people with disabilities. The sports consultants of SportMEE help Rotterdammers with a disability find a sport that suits them and ensure that it is possible for them to play sports. For financial help to play sports, the Youth Fund is there. And the top sports events naturally offer the Rotterdammer a lot of inspiration. What I like best is that in recent years, since the ratification of equal rights for people with disabilities, we have paid more and more attention to inclusive sports. For us, inclusive sports means that everyone with a disability can participate. Whether this is participating in a regular programme or participating in an adapted programme: the most important thing is that people can make their own choices according to their wishes and needs. Through www.unieksporten.nl, you can find an overview of all possibilities available in the city.
- The EPC will take place in Roterdam Ahoy, but finals are also planned on various city centre courts spread across the city. What do you expect from para archery at the Kop van Zuid, for example?
I expect a spectacle and hope for a lot of spectators. And moreover, that images of our inclusive city will go around the world. I really like the fact that the organization has chosen to organize sports outside, in the city as well. This will bring the event even closer to the people of Rotterdam and everyone who cannot see it in Rotterdam Ahoy in person will still be able to experience the event, the parasports and our city.
- The EPC consists of ten unique sports. Are you personally looking forward to a specific sport or perhaps even a specific athlete?
I admire all the athletes participating. I wish them all a great experience and success. And a specific sport, well. If I have to choose one, then maybe Boccia. Because this was an unknown sport to me until I first heard about it through the European Para Championships.
- Finally, what message would you like to give to ‘the Rotterdammer’ who has never come into contact with elite para sports before?
Come and watch, don’t miss it! Enjoy the achievements of these top athletes. They each put in a unique top performance. Be inspired by these athletes and be proud of your own achievements so far and of all the achievements you are about to make. Be proud of the athletes’ achievements and of our city, where such a great big event can take place in a way that is accessible to all. Like the event’s slogan: ‘the only pity is to miss it!’