Tournament director at European Para Championships
Aug 20 2023

Straathof will always remember the goosebump moments

Goosebump moments. Tournament director Jeroen Straathof had one or two every day during the European Para Championships. It could be a special action on the field. Or a statement. A moment of joy. Or a remarkable winner. “Like the story of that Afghan taekwondoka. Fleeing her country, training in France and then here as a member of the Refugee Team winning the European Para Championship.”

Straathof, however, could equally enjoy unexpected successes. “That, for example, goalball on TikTok drew tens of thousands, yes even, hundreds of thousands of viewers, also makes you completely happy as a tournament director. It tells me that the parasport now demands and gets the attention it deserves. An interview with me scored tremendously on a site in Turkey. No idea why, but that’s nice.”

He looked for a quiet spot behind the scenes every day. To take a break, but mostly to get his thoughts in order. So many hundreds of impressions, dozens of conversations, and regular goosebump moments; you have to recover from that every now and then. The conclusion: “I had a fantastic job here, for more than two weeks. Got nothing but compliments, how cool we put this event together. And how much parasport benefits from a tournament like this. Sometimes you have to let it all sink in. And then I realize: here lies a super, super proud tournament director.”

According to Straathof, it is time to let go of modesty and restraint. That is precisely why he said a resounding yes when Eric Kersten, creator of the European Para Championships, asked him to become tournament director. “Eric is daring, he has stepped into a niche market and has really made something of it. I like that.”

“I come from a sport, skating, which is pretty big in itself. And we are making it much bigger in the Netherlands. But my eyes did open when I was at the Paralympics in Sydney in 2000, as Jan Mulder’s pilot. There I already saw that the Paralympics were much bigger than the Winter Olympics. Can you imagine, that was almost 25 years ago. And I think the Paralympics have only gotten much bigger since then. Sometimes, even though we come from that world, we have to realize that the Paralympic world is really big, too.”

“By combining these 10 European Championships, we’ve really made those 10 different sports bigger now. Athletes see that, appreciate that. Diede de Groot, winner of grandslams in tennis, says the same thing. Calls it fantastic that, although she could not initially estimate what such an event was worth now anyway, she still came to play here.”

In the coming weeks, back home, he will take all the time he needs to review the highlights. Then he will think back to those moments in the city, at the Kop van Zuid and the Schouwburgplein, for example. There, too, parasports were embraced. “That what we all came up with together has come to fruition like this in Rotterdam over the past two weeks is amazing to me.”

It gave him those goosebump moments. Because he also met parasporters of the future there. After all, Straathof is the man of connection. At the Sport Plaza, he tried to connect sports providers and potential athletes; he spoke at meetings to city officials and sports associations. “I then give them little ideas on how to adapt sports plazas so that parasporters can also get their enjoyment there”, he said.

“On the first Saturday, I was at Schouwburgplein. I saw a couple standing there, with fries in hand. Just shoppers really. I invited them, to come and sit at the wheelchair tennis and watch boccia. I got into a conversation with those people and, as 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 feel we really mean something with this event. I think this is the reason why we do this.”

Straathof, as an ex-top athlete, has an eye for the athlete first and foremost. “As tournament director, I have a free role. Okay, I’m supposed to do some honors, give hands and hang medals. And I show my face at some meetings. But I also have plenty of time during such an event to have that occasional moment with a coach or with an athlete. I think that is also the most important part of my job. It’s important to hear what the athletes themselves are experiencing, what they like, or possibly don’t like.”

“What I personally looked at most was the enthusiasm with which the athlete celebrated his medal. To the emotions. Just recently I came from badminton and saw a Swedish girl walk into the Athletes’ Home with tears in her eyes. I don’t know her whole story then. But do see that a lot is happening here with those athletes.”

Many spoke to Straathof about the incredibly good atmosphere in Rotterdam. “Some didn’t know what they were experiencing. A lot of sports worked the tournaments, which they organized themselves before, often in relative anonymity. Those have now suddenly gained much more value. This has been achieved by combining all those events, all those tournaments. That’s really cool for those athletes, too.”

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