The Austrian EU Presidency is coming to its end soon, but before handing it over to Romania, the Austrians organised the informal meeting of the EU Sport Directors in Vienna on 11-12 December. One part of the discussions was dedicated to sport and physical activity for people with disabilities, and served as a first exchange and introduction to this topic, which will be on the agenda of the upcoming Romanian EU Presidency. A few representatives of sport movement were also invited to contribute to this session, among them the EOC EU Office.
The speakers were asked to address two issues: measures to increase the participation rate of people with disabilities in sport and physical activity, as well as qualifications for coaches who work with disabled athletes. In her contribution, EOC EU Office’s Deputy Director Heidi Pekkola highlighted the need for full recognition of sport and physical activity for people with disabilities, as the situations and possibilities even within the EU countries are very different. In addition, she raised e.g. the need for facilities, and what sport offers people with disabilities, as well as the importance of accessibility also outside the sport activity, e.g. to transportation or locker and changing rooms. Furthermore, Ms Pekkola mentioned the need for expertise, education, and further awareness-raising. She also highlighted the importance to include people with disabilities to all discussions and to make the EU meetings related to sport accessible to all.
Other speakers of the session were Ratko Kovačić, President of the European Paralympic Committee, Kaisa Larjomaa, Policy Director of ENGSO, Johann Knoll, Sports Coordinator from the Austrian Sports Federation for Disabled and Croatian Para Snowboarder Bruno Bošnjak. Johan Knoll made an interesting presentation on the national education system in Austria for coaches who work with disabled athletes, whereas Bruno Bošnjak shared his personal story highlighting the importance of sport for supporting his recovery from an accident, which caused him the disability.
After the speakers, several Sport Directors from the EU Members States took the floor highlighting the importance of this topic and updating their colleagues on the situation in their respective countries. The discussion will continue during the Romanian EU Presidency, as they prioritise sport for people with fewer opportunities, and they are planning to organise a Presidency Conference on this topic in March 2019.
Furthermore, the Sport Directors’ agenda included also e.g. a discussion on the European Sport Model, but unfortunately without the presence of the sport movement. In addition, the meeting was preceded by Presidency Seminar on Sport and Physical Activity at the Workplace, which was organised on 10 December.