Sport brings people together, drives technological innovation and is healthy for Brabant, financially as well.
Sport brings people together, drives technological innovation and is a healthy undertaking in Brabant, both physically and financially. BrabantSport's mission is to make Brabant even stronger through sport. Director Michel Reinders: “We make people healthier and, as an added bonus, this activity also showcases how innovative we are here in Brabant.”
‘De Parade’ as an open-air stadium, the ‘Sint-Janskathedraal’ as a venue for the finely honed skills of archers from more than 80 countries. In 2019, Den Bosch hosted the World Archery (Para) Championships, the largest sporting event of that year in the Netherlands, during an action-packed two weeks. This was also the first time that the World Archery Championships for able-bodied and disabled athletes were combined in a single event.
The result: happy sports enthusiasts, enthusiastic crowds and an international look & feel. The city was teeming with people dressed in sportswear, including athletes and visitors from Malaysia, Ecuador and other faraway countries. In the Netherlands, archery is not a mainstream sport, but in South Korea the finals were broadcast on live television. Owners of hospitality businesses were also pleased: the World Championships alone led to 22,000 hotel stays in the region.
Besides the competitions, there was an extensive programme of sports, music and entertainment to keep everyone busy. Seven thousand children were able to try their hand at archery during the children's parties. Those parties were organised for children from less well-off families. Lonely elderly people were invited to play ‘Bow Bingo’, a combination of bingo with archery and music, accompanied by a traditional ‘Bossche Bol’, the delicious chocolate-topped cream puff for which Den Bosch is famous.
So the World Cup symbolised everything BrabantSport stands for: sporting prowess, taking exercise and all the (social) spin-offs. “Sports are not just fun to watch, they also encourage people to start playing sports themselves”, says Michel Reinders. “People meet and get to know each other better through sport. You attract attention on all fronts with a major event like the World Archery Championships.”
Aside from the revenues sport generates, it is also one of the main drivers that keeps Brabant running socially and economically. In the light of this key role, BrabantSport has been committed to promoting sport in Brabant since 2017. The organisation collaborates with partners from the business community, knowledge institutes and government authorities to achieve its objectives. The main focus lies on talent development and top-class sport, technological innovations, events and a Unique Sports theme, which includes support for athletes with disabilities.
If you want to play a sport, you can often join a local club in Brabant. There are 5500 sports clubs in Brabant, offering football, hockey, archery and many other activities. People with disabilities should also be given the opportunity of playing sports. BrabantSport and its partners match supply to demand and endeavour to eliminate the barriers that hold back disabled people who want to play a sport. The organisation runs a number of sports assistance offices where people with disabilities can borrow sports gear, sports wheelchairs and other equipment when they want to try a sport for the first time.
Transport options are also offered. “If you live in Best and have a disability, you may not be able to play sports locally, but you can in Veldhoven. We facilitate you by providing transport.”
Brabant has produced many world-class athletes, such as Marianne Vos and Steven Kruijswijk in cycling, and professional darts player Michael van Gerwen. They top their respective rankings and people in Brabant are very proud of them. “Someone from South Holland is less likely to identify with an athlete originating from that province, but here in Brabant, we stand behind our athletes”, says Reinders.
In addition to the home-grown talent from Brabant, many athletes also move to the province to develop their skills further. Ranomi Kromowidjojo moved from Groningen to Eindhoven at the age of 16 in order to train in the Pieter van den Hoogenband Stadium, the national top sports centre for swimming.
Good facilities offer these top athletes the professional support they need and help bind them to the region. BrabantSport arranges coaches, medical backup and strength training programmes for them. In addition, talented athletes are offered special education to help them develop their full potential.
The presence of these sporting stars is good for Brabant, says Reinders. “People with outstanding talents who could not develop further at club level had to move to Papendal or Amsterdam in the old days. That's a missed opportunity. We tackle this by encouraging national sports centres to come to Brabant, so that talented people can continue to train in the region. Making sure that talented athletes can reach the top here adds to Brabant's reputation and image. This is a province that looks to the future and offers people opportunities.”
The strategy seems to be working, Reinders says. Top athletes often become ambassadors for Brabant, which strengthens our feeling of pride and togetherness. Pieter van den Hoogenband is the perfect example: he was actually born in Maastricht but everybody automatically associates him with Eindhoven. Other big sporting names in Brabant include Irene Wüst, Anky van Grunsven and Leontien van Moorsel.
BrabantSport also supports one-off sporting events and major national or international championships, such as Olympic Qualifying Tournaments and the Vuelta.
Hoogerheide has been chosen as the venue for the World Cyclo-Cross Championships in 2023. “These championships will stretch the resources of this relatively small village, but nobody has complained about possible noise or accessibility problems. The village is completely committed and will provide hundreds of volunteers.”
As far as Reinders is concerned, provincial and local government should not only invest in roads and housing to make the province an attractive place to live in the long term, money also needs to be put into sports and culture. He thinks Brabant can improve in this respect. “Yes, we have a national swimming stadium, but getting central government to provide extra funding for it is incredibly difficult. Even though a modest investment in sport has a high societal impact.”
The business community should also support sport more in his view. “Investments in sport should take the form of a public-private partnership to create a broad platform. So we seek out events that meet the needs of the business community.”
There are further partnerships in the field of technology and innovation, with Eindhoven University of Technology and Fontys Sports College. These innovations often focus on ways of encouraging people to move around more during the day, e.g. sensors in office environments.
Reinders: “One of the great things about the sports community here is that we have an abundance of willing guinea pigs who enjoy getting involved in these tests. Finding runners and cyclists to test the latest technological gadgets is no problem at all. After the roll-out in the sporting community, these new technologies often lead to applications in other fields, such as healthcare.”
Like the rest of the Netherlands, the popularity of clubs and associations is waning in Brabant. At the same time, more and more people meet up in parks and squares with their skateboards, BMX bikes and other Urban Sports gear.
Various cities in Brabant have invested heavily in the development of the old railway zones, such as Strijp-S in Eindhoven, the Tramkade in Den Bosch and the railway yard with its LocHal in Tilburg. These new developments exert a seemingly magnetic attraction on break dancers, street artists and urban sports enthusiasts. Reinders feels that this group should be given more attention.
Together with the provincial authority, municipal councils and other partners, BrabantSport is setting up initiatives aimed at the further professionalisation of Urban Sports. “When real estate prices rise in a redeveloped area, people who enjoy these sports often have to find a new location. This is unfortunate because they add colour to an area and keep it vibrant. So it's heartening to see that the Area 51 indoor park for skaters and BMX riders will stay where it is in Strijp-S, under a new apartment complex that will be built above it. With a sporty name: ‘Haasje Over’, which means leapfrog in Dutch.”
Unfortunately the World Skate Centre in the railway zone of Den Bosch, the largest indoor half-pipe in Europe, still faces an uncertain future. It is currently still a temporary facility, located in the city's former iron foundry.
This half-pipe has become extremely popular with future Olympians, such as Keet Oldenbeuving. This young skateboarder from Utrecht won the last European championships in Russia and took gold in the national skateboard championships in Rotterdam. The track in Den Bosch with its accurate copies of street obstacles such as railings, steps and benches holds few secrets for her.
One thing is certain: Reinders is proud of the fact that the sports idols of the future have already found their way to the training locations in Brabant. “A strikingly large percentage of our many Urban Sports champions were either born and bred in Brabant, or developed their talents here. This is another sport that is embedded in Brabant's DNA. That broad range of talent will help us achieve our ambition of becoming the leading sports province of the Netherlands.”
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