STRONA GŁÓWNA > News Dis+Abled2023 > A competition that unites. Dis+Abled European Summer Games 2023 have ended
News Dis+Abled2023

A competition that unites. Dis+Abled European Summer Games 2023 have ended

Sports, integration, leveling the playing field. And with all of this… great fun! Nearly half a thousand people from 12 countries descended on Wągrowiec from June 17-23, 2023, to take part in the extraordinary multidisciplinary Dis+Abled European Summer Games 2023.

The athletes competed in ten summer disciplines: bocci, sitting volleyball, goalball, swimming, table tennis, bowling, hand cycling, archery, dragon boat racing and sailing. However, it was not the sports results themselves that were most important.

– Today we come together as a community to witness the power of determination, resilience and passion,” said Lukasz Szeliga, president of the Polish Paralympic Committee, during the opening ceremony of the Dis+Abled European Summer Games 2023. – Let this event serve as a catalyst for change, spurring greater commitment to inclusion and accessibility in sports. Let’s create a future where every athlete has multiple opportunities, regardless of their abilities. Let’s continue to break down barriers, challenge preconceived notions and create a world where the sports space is equal for all. Let’s show Europe that the impossible does not exist!

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Fot. Adrian Stykowski

Integration through sport

Milena Olszewska and Artur Siódmiak were the ambassadors of the competition.

She is a three-time Paralympian and two-time bronze medalist at the Paralympic Games (London 2012, Rio de Janeiro 2016). She also counts among her greatest achievements the receipt of the Cup of the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda in recognition of outstanding sports achievements in the year of the centenary of regaining independence. She is also a multi-medalist at the European Championships and the World Championships – individually and in a mix with Lukasz Ciszek. She is close to the idea of promoting sports of people with disabilities and integration through sports.

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Fot. Maria Gniazdowska

He is the co-creator of the greatest successes of Polish handball – together with the Polish national team he reached for silver (2007) and bronze (2009) at the world championships. He especially made his mark in the memory of Polish fans with a goal after throwing across the pitch in the last seconds of the match against Norway – a goal scored in this unusual way after sacrificial defense turned out to be the decisive one for advancing to the semifinals of the 2009 World Cup. He also appeared at the Olympic Games in Beijing (2008), where Poland took 5th place in the handball tournament. He is originally from Wągrowiec – hence the initiative organized in his hometown is close to his heart.

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Fot. Maria Gniazdowska

She comes from the world of Paralympians, he – of non-disabled handball players. This is because the idea of the Dis+Abled European Summer Games in Wągrowiec is to bring together athletes with and without disabilities in a joint competition.

„I appreciate these athletes even more.”

– I helped organize these competitions, but it wasn’t until I put on the blindfold that I understood how difficult it was. This makes me appreciate these players and what I have even more,” said one of the people who tried their hand at goalball. Indeed, during the competition there were many workshops and training sessions with the players, intended for anyone who wanted to try.

Accurate goalball is a sport that was developed for the blind and visually impaired. It relies mainly on the senses of hearing and touch. Players play with eye patches and special goggles that keep out the light, so everyone has an equal chance. The lines bounding the field are embossed so athletes can feel them by touch. The game uses a special ball made of rubber, with a bell inside. Thanks to this design, the ball makes sounds that allow the players to track its position and move in the right direction.

Competition in this spectacular discipline was held from the beginning of the competition.

– At the start of the competition, we managed to form three national teams – the U19, which goes in two weeks, on July 11, to Brazil for the world championships, the Polish A team and the Polish B team,” said Piotr Szymala, coach of the Polish team in this discipline. – We consider the first day of the competition to be very fruitful, we managed to win against the Czech and Romanian teams. On Tuesday the competition will continue, and on Wednesday we will know the teams that will qualify for the finals.

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Fot. Adrian Stykowski

Competition has also begun in archery, bowling, swimming and bocci. The latter can be called a strategy game, and its rules resemble pétanque or boules. It is designed for people with severe physical disabilities. Boccia can be played as an individual or team competition. The games are played on a court measuring 12.5 meters long by 6 meters wide, divided into six rectangular zones. The players’ task is to place their ball as close as possible to the ball-target (a white ball labeled „jack” or „ball”). They can do this by throwing from their hands, throwing from a ramp (a special tool that allows people with movement difficulties to move the ball) or by bouncing the opponent’s ball off the target ball.

– Today was a nervous day, as I had a wheelchair breakdown in the morning,” reported Malgorzata Perlinskaya, a national team athlete in bocci. – Fortunately, we arrived at the competition on time and despite the lack of training before the start, I managed to beat my opponent. As soon as we finish our bocci competition, I will definitely go to other arenas to cheer on the male and female athletes.

„We are happy to be here.”

– This championship is such a novelty,” said Rafal Czuper, a table tennis player and two-time Paralympic runner-up. – I have never competed at such a competition. There is a very cool integration. The competitions are well organized.

Table tennis is one of the disciplines in which the competition continued from the second day. It is one of the most popular sports around the world for people with disabilities. In Wągrowiec, in addition to Poles, at the tables we saw players from Italy, Serbia and Germany.

– We are very happy to be here and play with excellent players,” said Serbian Mihailo Radovanovic. – All over the world Serbia is associated with tennis and Novak Djokovic, so I also try to make Serbia famous, but through table tennis. I come from a small town in Serbia and I played tennis since I was a child, because there my cerebral palsy and my disability didn’t bother me. When I went to college, I started teaching tennis to children, until one time a coach saw me and told me to take up table tennis professionally. Now my dream is the Paralympic Games in Paris.

The athletes admitted that the competition in Wągrowiec was a great place to get to know each other better and talk to athletes from all over Europe, exchange experiences and make new friends.

Also competing on the second day were bocci, goalball, archery, bowling, swimming, as well as hand cycling – racing on so-called handbikes. The cyclists raced in the town of Potulice, located near Wągrowiec. The MH4 class was won by Rafal Wilk, ahead of Jakub Staszkiewicz. The best in the MH3 class was Rafal Szumiec, but all three riders fell at the finish line practically simultaneously.

– A very good team ride,” assessed Rafal Szumiec. – Together with Kuba Staszkiewicz we chased Rafal Wilk and succeeded, thanks to which the end of the race was so exciting for the fans.

– We all rode into the finish line together, and right after the race I wasn’t sure yet if I had won,” confirmed Rafal Wilk, our three-time Paralympic champion. – I had the lead for most of the race, so I wanted to help Hubert Komorowski on the course, which caused my opponents to catch up with me before I knew it. However, I am glad that centimeters decided that I won.

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Fot. Maria Gniazdowska

„You can play sports at any age”

Wednesday, the third day of competition, began with heavy rain, which meant that the archery competition had to be delayed slightly. Fortunately, the weather quickly improved, and the fleeting precipitation later was just a respite from the heat. At the archery range one could see archers from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

– I come from Ukraine, I moved to Poland with my family before the war broke out,” said Kseniya Markitantova. – Because of the accident I became a disabled person, but sports and archery allow me not only to do what I love, but also to develop and dream. I worry a lot about my loved ones who live in Kiev, but like everyone else I believe that someday this nightmare will end.

Kseniya was the best in the block bows, in which Slovak Marcel Pavlik also showed off his skills. The athlete surprised with how well he speaks Polish.

– When the pandemic broke out, we couldn’t train in Slovakia, so we started doing it in Poland. Thanks to this, I quickly learned to speak your language, which is very similar to ours,” he recounted. – I am impressed by the organization of this event. It’s good that in Poland the Paralympic sport is developing so much and the athletes are being recognized, because with us it’s a bit worse. Fortunately, we are not far away, so whenever we are invited, we will definitely visit you.

Anna Hillebrandt-Pogorzelska, who nearly 51 years ago represented our country at the Fourth Summer Paralympic Games in Heidelberg, where our team made its debut, is also eager to visit Poland. The Start Poznań athlete then won four medals in para-swimming – two gold and two silver.

– I am incredibly happy that Paralympic sport is developing so much in our country,” she said. – I also took part in swimming competitions myself, which shows that you can do sports at any age. After all, I was a swimmer, and that’s something you don’t forget, and even though I was initially offered the opportunity to compete in bowling, I said I would reminisce about the years of my youth.

Anna Hillebrandt-Pogorzelska currently lives in the Netherlands and came to Wągrowiec with her husband.

– Both in the past and today, competing and playing together was and is a chance to make international friendships, which sometimes, despite the distance, can turn into love, she said. – That’s exactly what happened for me, as I met my future husband – a Dutchman – during the 1976 Toronto Games.

„To make inclusive sports unite players”.

The final chord of the sports competition was the spectacular competition on the water and the final game of sitting volleyball. The races of sailboats, dragon boats and kayaks provided the participants with incredible emotions. On the charming Lake Durowski, spectators could admire the perseverance and strength of the competitors.

Water sports are an extremely passionate form of activity that combines both the beauty of nature and the skills of the athletes themselves. They also create an excellent platform for the integration of people with and without disabilities.

– The lake in Wągrowiec is made for water sports,” stressed Romuald Schmidt. – The Wielspin center is adapted for people with disabilities, so accessibility to the water surface is just perfect for them. We want to give such an impulse so that the ideas we implement in Poland also in terms of integration find fertile ground abroad. Guests from all over Europe have come to us, and we would very much like the inclusive sport to connect players in other countries as well.

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Fot. Adrian Stykowski

The dragon boat regatta is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular struggles on the water.

– Dragon boats originated in China, where they were sailed several thousand years ago,” said Faustyna Andrzejak, captain of the dragon boat team in Poznan. – They came to Poland in the 1980s, and now there are clubs in every major city with competitors. The boats we sailed in Wągrowiec are 10-person boats, but there are also 20-person boats. There is also always a drummer on the boat, pounding out the rhythm, and a helmsman. During the training for volunteers and participants, we taught them how to sit on the boats, how to properly hold the oars, similar to the oars of canoeists, and how to row them, and at the end we held races, which were full of excitement.

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Fot. Adrian Stykowski

The competition in team sports closed with the final struggle of the sitting volleyball tournament. This discipline is designed for people with physical disabilities, and the rules of the game are very similar to those known from classic volleyball. The match lasts until three sets are won, and a set is won by the team that scores 25 points with a two-point lead.

Non-disabled players can also participate in the sport. This usually happens at amateur competitions and during sparring matches. On the court, however, non-disabled players have no advantage over players with disabilities, so the competition is extremely interesting.

– We even played against able-bodied players from the extraliga, where players often lost to our teams,” recounted Adam Malik, coach of the Polish women’s national sitting volleyball team. – This shows how interesting this sport is. It certainly integrates the two communities wonderfully.

Not just sports

Not sport alone is the life of such a great event. In addition to sports competition, workshops on anti-doping education, prepared by POLADA, and so-called „green practices” awaited those taking part in the event, during which, under the guidance of experts from the Ministry of Climate and Environment, one could learn how we can protect our environment in a few simple steps.

Workshops on anti-doping and clean sport compliance are an increasingly common sight at competitions. POLADA, which is the legal successor to the Commission for Combating Doping in Sport, was established in mid-2017. Since then, the agency has grown, and activities related to the fight against doping in sports have gained new momentum. An important factor in this process was the actions of the Minister of Sport and Tourism, Witold Bańko, who played a key role in promoting Polish anti-doping initiatives.

– Through our workshops we wanted to get athletes interested in the issues of combating doping in sports,” said Grzegorz Borkowski, head of the Information and Education Department of the Polish Anti-Doping Agency. – During them, we presented the most important rules that athletes must remember, especially those with disabilities, who often take drugs for health reasons. To avoid the possibility of their unnecessary disqualification, they need to have knowledge of what is and what is not doping. During the workshop, participants were able to solve a quiz from the world anti-doping organization, and the best ones received small gadgets.

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Fot. Adrian Stykowski

In turn, the workshop prepared by experts from the Ministry of Climate and Environment was aimed at raising environmental awareness among participants, athletes and coaches. The organizer set itself the task of presenting practical and innovative solutions that can help protect the environment and reduce the negative impact on ecosystems. Participants were able to make eco-friendly bags with their own hands and learn how to properly segregate trash.

– The entire Dis+Abled European Summer Games were held in the spirit of ecology,” said Katarzyna Urbanska, co-organizer of the competition. – Our meals were served on paper plates, and our athletes were transported to each arena by eco-friendly hybrid and electric buses. During the Ministry of Climate and Environment’s environmental workshops, we painted eco-friendly bags, ideal for reuse, such as when shopping. We also learned how to properly segregate trash, how not to waste food, and at the end each participant got a bottle with a filter to avoid creating completely unnecessary plastic trash. We are all responsible for our planet and need to take care of it.

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Fot. Adrian Stykowski

Sport as a catalyst for change

The Dis+Abled European Summer Games 2023 have come to an end, but organizers are confident that these few days have succeeded in demonstrating the enormous potential of the Paralympic summer sports as a powerful tool for social inclusion. It’s a path to truly equal opportunities for people with disabilities, not only in sports, but also in everyday life.

Joint competition, mutual learning, daily cooperation is an invaluable source of benefits for everyone – both participants and organizers, colleagues, volunteers. It is worth emphasizing the active participation of the latter in particular. Without volunteers, the planned activities would not have had a chance to happen. It was they who interlocked the individual elements of the competition and the whole environment, themselves acquiring skills useful in life and work. Mutual exchange thus took place on many levels.

is+Abled European Summer Games 2023 once again showed that sports can be a catalyst for change that goes far beyond the competition of the athletes themselves. It can naturally become a foundation for understanding and acceptance. As a result, this kind of project is not just a few June days together. It’s also an excellent opportunity to promote diversity – both among the athletes and among the spectators – and the beginning of long-term change.

The competition was a time full of emotions, triumphs and friendships. Once again, it proved that sports have no boundaries, and although competition is written into it – it can truly unite.

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The organizer of the Dis+Abled European Summer Games was the Polish Paralympic Committee. The event was co-financed by the European Union’s Erasmus+ program. The event was held under the honorary patronage of the Ministry of Environment and Climate and Minister of Sport and Tourism Kamil Bortniczuk. Media patrons of the event were TVP Sport, TVP 3 Poznań, Polish Radio and the niepelnosprawni.pl portal.