The European Paralympic Committee (EPC) has announced the names of eight athletes that will form its first ever Athletes’ Council.
The group is formed of male and female Paralympians from across Europe, who are either active in or retired from winter and summer sports and have a variety of disabilities.
They were selected from 16 nominations made by 15 National Paralympic Committees – nearly a third of all EPC Members - reflecting the strength and engagement of the Para sport community in Europe.
The first EPC Athletes’ Council are:
Barbara van Bergen, The Netherlands
Four-time Paralympian van Bergen is a former wheelchair basketball player who currently competes in alpine skiing. A sit-skier, the Dutch athlete is a member of the NOC*NSF Athletes’ Commission.
Ayaz Bhuta, Great Britain
Wheelchair rugby player Bhuta was part of Great Britain’s Paralympic gold medal winning squad at Tokyo 2020. Recently retired, Bhuta has experience of using his platform nationally in Great Britain to influence conversation and decision making, particularly around ethnic diversity.
Artem Manko, Ukraine
A silver medallist from Tokyo 2020, wheelchair fencer Manko is a category A athlete and firm advocate for the athlete voice. Manko was part of the International Paralympic Committee’s Athlete Forum in 2023.
Lorenzo Albaladejo Martinez, Spain
London 2012 Paralympian Albaladejo Martinez is the current President of the Spanish Paralympic Committee’s Athletes’ Council. A T38 athlete in athletics, he has experience of developing the athlete voice within an organisation.
Sara Morganti, Italy
Morganti is one of her country’s most prolific Paralympians and won two bronze medals at Tokyo 2020 in equestrian. The grade 1 rider is the President of the Italian Athletes’ Commission and the athlete representative on the Board of the Italian National Paralympic Committee and the Italian Equestrian Federation.
Karolina Pelendritou, Cyprus
Pelendritou has been competing in swimming internationally since 2002 and has accumulated six Paralympic medals, including three golds, in the S11 category.
Ronny Persson, Sweden
With involvement in alpine skiing and curling at five winter Paralympics behind him, as a sit-ski athlete, coach and commentator, Persson comes with a huge amount of experience.
Markus Salcher, Austria
Salcher is the current Vice athletes’ spokesperson for the Austrian Paralympic Committee. He is a double Paralympic champion in Para alpine skiing as well as the winner of a further two bronze and two silver medals across three winter Paralympic Games.
The former Athletes’ Representative on the EPC Board, Nantenin Keita, decided to step back from the role as she prepares for her home Paralympics at Paris 2024.
All nominees were reviewed and evaluated by a specially convened Nomination Subgroup. The members of the Subgroup were also put forward by the EPC Membership.
Paralympic champion triathlete Susanna Rodriguez Gacio of Spain; General Secretary of the Austrian Paralympic Committee, Petra Huber; judoka and Swedish Paralympic Committee Board Member Ellis Kivi and Chairperson of Paralympics Ireland Athletes’ Commission, Catherine Walsh, formed the Subgroup.
EPC President, Raymon Blondel, said: “The EPC Board is absolutely delighted to be able to establish the organisation’s first Athletes’ Council with such a high quality of candidates to choose from.
“It was not an easy job for the Nomination Subgroup to select the final group and we are grateful to them for their time and effort in doing so. It was fantastic that, as well as making athlete nominations, Members also put forward such a high quality of candidates to the Subgroup.
“The Athletes’ Council is one of the key aims of the EPC’s strategic plan developed by Members in 2021 and it has been great to see the level of engagement from the community throughout its development. I hope that all athletes, including those who were not appointed this time, will get involved in its work.
“Our thanks go to Nantenin Keita for being the EPC’s Athlete Representative and helping us to get to this point. We look forward to integrating the advice and guidance of the EPC Athletes’ Council into our decision-making and strengthening the athlete voice further.”
The first step of the EPC Athletes’ Council will be to elect a representative, with full voting rights, to the EPC Board.
More widely, the Council is tasked with establishing mechanisms to engage with the wider athlete community; leading the EPC’s efforts for greater athlete involvement and engagement in its activities, creating strategic priorities for the EPC around the needs of athletes, and advising on how these are best introduced in the most meaningful, impactful way. They will also appoint a liaison to the IPC Athletes’ Council.
The Athletes' Council join four EPC Board Members who are also Paralympians, further embedding the athlete voice firmly within the organisation's governance.
Background to the EPC Athletes’ Council
At the 2021 EPC General Assembly in Limassol, Cyprus, the EPC Membership created and agreed a Strategic Plan based around the areas of governance, finance, partnerships, sports and communications. Establishing an Athletes’ Council for the EPC was identified as a key action.
Working groups formed of representatives from the EPC Board and put forward by Members were subsequently convened in 2022. The governance working group drafted a description covering the roles and responsibilities of the EPC Athletes’ Council which was put to the Membership at the 2023 General Assembly in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. After a final round of feedback, the description was published and the nomination process for the Nomination Subgroup and Athletes’ Council was launched in October. The Nomination Subgroup was suggested as there is currently no event or competition at which all European athletes would have the opportunity to take part in elections.
The Nomination Subgroup were approved by the EPC Board in November and gathered in December to consider all nominations and make a recommendation. This was ratified by the EPC Board in January.