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"Brno has had our back," says the president of the European Games for the Handicapped

02.09.2020 21:05

The global pandemic has affected many events. The Emil Open Summer European Games for Handicapped Youth is one of them. For the first time, they will take place instead of June to September. In the following interview, the president of Emil Open, Pavel Zbožínek, describes what other organizational "hitches " the current situation has brought. It was he who resumed the Games in Brno in 2017.


The 9th Summer European Games of Handicapped Youth Emil Open 2020 will take place in September this year. You had to move it from the traditional June term due to a global pandemic. What organizational complications has this coronavirus situation presented?

It is definitely a double preparation. The coronavirus caught up with us at a time when we had closed the first round of applications and agreed on an accompanying program. In June, thanks to the Czech-Austrian cross-border project, we were expected to return to Svobody Square, in the form of a Czech-Austrian international wheelchair basketball match, wheelchair rugby and many others. We had to stop all this and move it to next year. So there will be no presentation sports events for the public this year, about which we are very sorry. It is an important part of the Emil Open - to show disabled athletes as "champs" who do not need to be felt sorry for but rather supported.

Another "complication" is the withdrawal of several regions from financial support. Last year, a total of eight regions supported their athletes. Unfortunately, this year there will be only about five of them with reference to coronavirus, and I include our important "domestic" supporter - the South Moravian Region.


What do regions contribute to their athletes?

For accommodation and meals. You have to realize that Emil Open is a relatively expensive project mainly because we pay all of this for the participants. Most of them are children and adolescents from various types of schools and social facilities, where for many of them the financial burden is the reason forcing them to not participate in games. We just want the only qualification for them to be the desire to play sports. Well, we don't want anything else from the regions other than to contribute to accommodation and food fees for athletes from their region.

But be positive. We have a great group of people around us, with whom we manage everything - a team of colleagues, supporters, partners, a lot of people who support us and what is involved in the Emil Open… Whether it's the Faculty of Sports Studies of  the Masaryk University, with which we have more and more cooperation - starting with the great Vice President Emil Open, who is a 3rd-year student, through the director of individual sports or volunteer coordinator to student involvement in internships, or the city of Brno, which held our back. This is the highest support from the city of Brno so far. The city thus gives a clear message that disabled athletes have a green light in Brno.

Or if we take into account the growing interest of corporate volunteers or volunteers from among pupils and students of common types of schools. These all form an amazing group, which even at this time helps us to prepare days full of sports and fun for young athletes in Brno.


Going back to the athletes – From how many countries will they come this year?

Compared to the original applications, when 953 participants from 16 European countries applied for the games, our participation fell by about a third to 611 from 13 countries. In fact, we have partially closed ourselves off abroad. By decision of the director of Boccio, the sport participation was closed to them. We made it a national tournament, of course, while maintaining the Open category. We hope that these numbers will not change and that the situation regarding the pandemic will not mean any further reduction or cancellation of the games themselves. We are constantly monitoring, evaluating and even establishing the position of "COVID coordinator". We do not want to underestimate anything, and of course, we will not allow any threat to the participants.


What disabilities are most often in the case of competitors?

The greatest interest is among athletes with mental disabilities. However, even though the Emil Open is accessible to all types of disability, we try to ensure that the representation is evenly balanced under normal circumstances.


Emil Open is not just about competition. An accompanying program is also included. What would you point out this year?

You're right. Emil Open is not only sports, but also a social meeting of young people with disabilities, and therefore we place great emphasis on the accompanying program. What I would like to point out is still a secret. On the one hand, everything is not completely resolved yet; in addition, it should still be a surprise. But to answer you at least: The accompanying program is divided into several parts. These are, for example, various promotional events with which we want to draw attention to the Emil Open and the sport of the disabled as such. We also try to create a varied offer of the individual program of participants - visits to various sports, cultural and entertainment facilities and, last but not least, an organized program, such as a visit to Brno Zoo, Observatory and Planetarium, BRuNo  family park or a cruise on the Brno dam. We just enjoy Brno, and we enjoy showing it to the participants in all its beauty.


The Emil Endowment Fund, which is the organizer of the Emil Open 2020, has supported over 8,000 athletes and sports clubs. What exactly does such help look like?

To be completely accurate, the organizer of the Emil Open is not the Emil Endowment Fund, but the Emil's Sports Association, founded by it. Still, it is not necessary to distinguish in this case.

We're just Emil. So: Emil helps mainly in three areas. First and foremost, in the form of direct financial support, where we help many individuals and sports clubs by creating sports opportunities. Next, we initiated the creation of a workout playground for wheelchair users in Brno, we established the 1st Figure Skating Club for the Disabled in the Czech Republic, or we introduced a new water sport for wheelchair users - parapaddleboarding. And thirdly, we are the organizers of various sporting events, with our largest so far being the organization of the World Games for Handicapped Youth / IWAS U23 World Games Prague 2016.


The event also includes a benefit evening with Jan Kraus. If a visitor buys a ticket for 350 crowns, he can join those who help with Emil. What exactly is the money raised going for?

The annual beneficial Show of Jan Kraus, who has been a member of the board of directors of our endowment fund since its establishment, is also an accompanying Emil Open program. I hope I won't disappoint anyone when I admit that we usually use the raised money to kick off preparations for the next year's games.


What other sporting events for the disabled are waiting for you this year? 

This year we will have two more important sporting events. I will not mention the first one yet. I apologize for being mysterious again, but we are not going to announce it with all the glory until the Emil Open. And the second is the organization of the historically first international figure skating competitions of athletes of special Olympics (with mental disabilities) in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, even here, coronavirus spoils our joy, as half of the originally eight registered countries have withdrawn our participation. And since it will be the only international figure skating race in Europe this year, we are keeping our fingers crossed that it will really take place. If I can use this interview as an invitation, I invite everyone to the Sports Association Stadium Brno on October 16 and 17, 2020.


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