I meet with EUSA (European University Sports Association) President Adam Roczek on the occasion of the European Universities Games (EUG) taking place in Lodz. This great celebration of sport, opened on a grand scale and bringing together 5,000 participants from 37 countries, is therefore an opportunity to talk about student sport, its development and prospects, as well as to assess the organisation of the championships in Lodz.
Interviewee Ewa Chojnacka editor-in-chief
- You have been President of EUSA since 2012. What exactly is the Association and what are its main, major projects?
EUSA is a non-governmental organisation that brings together national academic sports associations from 47 European countries. It is a continental member of the world federation for academic sport (FISU) and the only organisation of its kind in Europe. Similar associations operate on all continents and are also affiliated to FISU. We are a relatively young association, having only been set up in 1999, but we are developing very quickly and dynamically. The key to success is the idea of our sports programme being based on university teams competing against each other, rather than the national teams for which the sports programme is delivered by FISU. Therefore, the nationality of the participants does not matter, only the university affiliation is important. Universities from 37 EUSA member states participate in the Games in Lodz, but students come from more than 50 countries, including non-European ones. We are building a social responsibility programme around the sports programme, successfully applying for Erasmus+ funding.
- Does a sport with the adjective 'academic' have any special role to play? Are there any sports that are more or less 'academic'?
Sport has always been part of the university curriculum and I am convinced that a good sports programme is needed by universities now more than in the past. Sport nurtures, unites students from different faculties at different stages of their university career, and builds the university community. A good programme is one that gives every student the opportunity to participate, regardless of their ability, whether they are an Olympic athlete or simply want to spend a few hours a week on recreational activities. Volleyball, for example, has a decidedly academic character in Europe.
- You have been involved with the EUG since the first edition in 2012 in Córdoba. How did the idea of the Games originate and how has it evolved over the years? Perhaps you have a particular memory or anecdote from these events?
We didn't actually plan to hold the Games in Córdoba, we just wanted to try and organise an event for five sports in the same place and at the same time. At the time, there were 10 disciplines in the EUSA's sports programme; the University of Malaga wanted to organise competitions for the other five. And then the colleagues from Cordoba decided that they wanted to be the sole organiser and took it upon themselves to organise them all. There was a bit of sporting rivalry between the two Universities, but the result was fruitful for European academic sport. There were a lot of funny incidents back then, for example in Cordoba the sand for the beach volleyball competition turned out not to comply with the requirements of the World Federation, we had to bring in new sand and prepare the court in 24 hours. It was successful because the organisers are always passionate people who love sport. Anyway, there was a similar situation in Lodz with the 3x3 basketball courts and now the Rector's prompt decisions have also solved our problem.
What is most important for the success of a major sporting event like the EUG? I know it will be difficult to name one thing....
In fact, just one thing is the most important: the right people in the right places. And so it is in Lodz.
The Games are not only an organisational challenge, but also a financial one. It seems difficult to talk about box office success, as competitions involving student-athletes do not attract crowds willing to sponsor.
The Games are not a commercial event and do not make a profit for the organiser, as is the case with the Olympic Games. However, there are other values that competitions such as the EUG bring that are difficult to convert into money. Each organiser defines the specific reasons for undertaking the project. The motto Lodz, we can has an unambiguous message. The Games are the most important academic sporting event in Europe and probably the biggest academic event, regardless of its nature. 5,000 participants from 37 countries at 450 universities, on top of 700 volunteers and 500 sporting official guests - I am convinced that by building this event we are helping to make Europe a better place and that participation in the Games, whatever its nature, is an inspiration to all participants.
- How does academic sport in Poland compare to Europe in terms of the level of players?
Basically very good, although sometimes there are more and sometimes less of these sporting successes. AZS is one of EUSA's key partners and I think we will still do a lot together. The Lodz Games in the medal classification will certainly belong to AZS.
During the opening ceremony, it was noticeable that some countries were represented by a very large group of students from various universities, while others had very modest delegations. What is the reason for this?
There is no uniform system for organising academic sport in Europe. Even in the Scandinavian countries, which are after all so similar, there are huge differences. Certainly, among other things, financial resources influence the organisational capacity of individual federations.
- EUG 2022 Lodz will last for more than a week, so it is too early to judge, but I will nevertheless ask for a comment that can be followed up after the event.
What I see in Lodz fills me with great optimism. Everything is prepared to the highest standard. The athletes are met with all-round assistance, mainly from volunteers, and the sports arenas are prepared as if for the Olympic Games. The time for evaluation is yet to come, but I think that all our guests - players and spectators - will leave Lodz in a week's time full of excitement and satisfied with the sporting emotions.
Adam Roczek has been president of EUSA for 10 years. He is a social activist in the University Sports Association of Poland and a member of the World Federation of Academic Sports (FISU). He has a degree in Tourism and Recreation and a postgraduate degree in Sports Manager from the Wroclaw University of Health and Sport Sciences and is currently Chancellor of the university.