Removing the barriers for deserving athletes

 Edition 28 September 2017, by John Mahnen

Many of us take sport for granted. We jump in the car or on the bike and off we go to the club, fitness center or swimming pool. What if we discovered upon arrival that the front door was locked? Or what if we had to traverse a moat before we could engage in our favorite physical activity? For some 1.7 million people in the Netherlands, this could be the scenario. That is the number of people in the country with a disability for whom sport can be more challenging than simply paying the yearly contribution.

Enter an organisation whose mission is to facilitate sport for people with a disability. Fonds Gehandicaptensport (FGS) programs engage those wanting to get started to the seasoned competitive athlete and all stations in between. FGS facilitates disabled sport in several ways. They provide funding to ensure that sport is accessible by providing subsidies to sport providers allowing them to purchase equipment, organize events or make their accommodation more accessible. FGS also works hard to keep a broad audience informed about disabled sport in this country. They run an innovative schools programme to allow kids to understand why disabled sport is so important and to experience it firsthand. FGS also runs a number of sportspecific programs. The yearly soccer event run in conjunction with the Dutch Football Association, the KNVB, in Barendrecht is the pinnacle of their efforts in disability football or G-voetbal as it known in this country. They are also active in field hockey and assist hockey clubs through workshops, clinics and camps as well as financial support for starting disabled hockey programs. FGS also announced a new program at the beginning of this year to team up with the Dutch Cycling Union, the KNWU, to support Paracycling. Together, they will look to build on previous successes to provide a solid future for disabled cycling in Holland – a goal which is now even more important in the light of the recent announcement that the 2019 UCI World Track Paracyling Championships will be held in Apeldoorn.

In order to support their efforts, FGS hold two annual activities meant to spotlight their activities and the countless people touched by disabled sport. The Unique Sport Talent of the Year award is meant to feature a disabled athlete for their achievements. The candidates are nominated by the public and online voting determines the annual prize winner. A formal gala is held every year to honor not only the key figures in disabled sport and their accomplishments but their benefactors as well. This year’s gala will be held in the newly re-named Johan Cruyff ArenA. All of these activities come at a cost of course and FGS must devote considerable time and effort to fundraising. Being one the Netherlands most respected charitable institutions is an important cornerstone to funding a yearly budget of some three million euros and allows FGS to solicit contributions from both the commercial and private sectors. These two sides of the funding equation contribute 50/50 to the yearly FGS funding needs. The 1% Fair Share program calls on businesses which are already active in sport sponsoring to allocate an additional 1% of their sponsorship budget to disabled sport. This program is a big success and some of the biggest names in the Dutch sport sponsoring space are on board.

A new initiative in 2017, the IJsselmeer Challenge is a fundraising cycling event. The ride is a cyclosportive which features several possible distances for cyclists of all levels. The 50km version was approachable for a wide audience while the circuit around the entire IJsselmeer lake was a day-long journey of 285km. The start and finish took place in Lelystad in the shadow of the historical VOC ship Batavia. The route was picturesque with beautiful vistas but the lake breezes also proved a formidable challenge. The inaugural version, ridden this past August, was blessed with picture-perfect summer weather. The long-distance cyclists departed just before dawn and returned in time for a buffet dinner. Among the 300 participants were the tandem team of Nicolien Sauerbreij and her good friend Esther Crombag. Sauerbreij won Olympic gold on the snowboard in Vancouver while Crombag, who lost her sight at the age of 11, is an accomplished tandem cyclist when she is not teaching law at the University of Maastricht. The first edition of the IJsselmeer Challenge was a success and the participants raised some 25.000 euros in support of disable sport.

Together with ride organiser, NL Tour Rides, FGS will once again call on enthusiastic cyclists to take part in the second version of the IJsselmeer Challenge to be held in August 2018. Once again, the ride will feature entertainment and a special edition cycling jersey. There is not only the opportunity for individuals to take part but for also for teams of friends and companies.

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