German city Duisburg has played host to the inaugural IPC Athletes’ Forum ©Ralf Kuckuck/DBS-Akademie

German city Duisburg has played host to the inaugural International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletes’ Forum, bringing representatives of different Para-sports together to discuss and exchange ideas.

More than 80 athletes from around 22 International Federations (IFs) and 35 National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) had an opportunity to interact both directly with each other and IPC representatives on various topics relating to the Paralympic Movement.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Athlete Committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission were also represented.

The four-day event was split between an "IF Day" and "NPC Day", with discussions about athlete representation, and presentations by IPC staff and athlete representatives from the IPC committees on anti-doping, classification, the media and the Paralympic Games among others.

During sessions and workshops, participants engaged in open discussions and were introduced to resources aimed at strengthening their athletic careers and life after sports.

"The IPC Athlete Forum allowed us an opportunity to take a huge step forward in improving communication and athlete representation across all areas of the Paralympic Movement," Chelsey Gotell, who was elected as chairperson of the IPC Athletes’ Council earlier this year, said.

"To be a truly athlete-centred organisation, we need to ensure our athletes are informed and educated, and have the ability to be part of the dialogue and decisions that directly impact them.

"The Forum proved that we have very intelligent, knowledgeable and informed athletes from across the world who are very vocal within their respective sports and countries. 

"The IPC Athletes' Council's job is to now come up with a strategic plan that ensures we continue to engage all of the representatives who were here and that we formulate a plan where we were missing representation so that the momentum continues.

"We’re all one family at the end of the day and it's vital we work together to ensure our Movement has the athletes at the centre of every decision made.

"There were a lot of common issues that have come out of this, as well as a lot of the great dialogue and conversations about what we’re doing really well."

New Zealand's Tim Prendergast led a Proud Paralympian workshop ©Getty Images
New Zealand's Tim Prendergast led a Proud Paralympian workshop ©Getty Images

Athletes participated in two different Proud Paralympian workshops, led by Ileana Rodriguez and Tim Prendergast, aimed at supporting them both on and off the field of play.

Rio 2016 Paralympic silver and bronze medallist Grigorios Polychronidis of Greece led a boccia demonstration and competition, while Worldwide Paralympic Partner Ottobock provided eight brand-new playing chairs for participants to play wheelchair basketball.

Former wheelchair basketball player and IPC President Sir Philip Craven and London 2012 gold medallist Annika Zeyen of Germany led the games.

"All the questions affect each sport in a similar way," Polychronidis, who attended as the athlete representative for the Boccia International Sports Federation (BISFed) and the Hellenic Paralympic Committee, said. 

"So it’s not about boccia itself because I feel that we all share the same problems and it is maybe even better to discuss some issues with athletes from other sports because it helps you see a bigger picture and this may help you be better in your own sport."

Sir Philip added: "Athletes are the heart of the Paralympic Movement.

"It is integral that we hear their voices on various matters and at the same time that they are well-equipped with knowledge and resources about the Movement.

"With that, I want to greatly thank the athletes who took time to participate and make the first-ever IPC Athletes’ Forum productive and successful.

"But the conversation should not stop here.

"I hope the athletes will bring back what they have learned to their respective IFs and NPCs and that we can all work together to ensure that the Movement will truly remain athlete-centred."

Rio 2016 bronze medallist Moran Samuel of Israel also attended as World Rowing’s representative.

Further support of the Athletes’ Forum came from North Rhine-Westphalia, the sporting state of Germany, with the attendance of Sports Minister Christina Kampmann.