WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN
WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN

Feb 28, 2024 | Wheelchair Championships

WPA Parasport Division – MALMO OPEN

For the second time I have just had the opportunity to visit one of the largest Parasport events in the world – Malmo Open. The whole thing got started in 1977 with just one single sport on the program, Table Tennis, and in 2016 it became the second biggest event behind the Paralympic Games, with 18 sports and 2518 athletes. Yes, make no mistake about it – that is how the participants are seeing themselves, and if you think that this may be slightly exaggerated, then clearly you have not witnessed these athletes in action!

WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN

Unfortunately, the pandemic did strike very hard against Malmo Open, as it did also to almost all form of activities in general. The event did not take place during the two years when the pandemic was hitting society at its hardest, and as a result “only” 12 sports and close to 1300 athletes did participate in this year’s event. If the interest to participate has decreased following the pandemic? No, not at all! The athletes are all still around, and the interest to compete is as great as ever before – it is the loss of a large number of volunteers that has caused the downsizing. I personally hope that this magnificent event soon again will be as big as before – or bigger.

WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN

FIFH, the organizer of Malmo Open, is one of Europe’s largest clubs with its 900 members that is devoted to parasports only. I do not know how many members the club have, but it resides in a building with two sports halls, an office, meeting rooms, a cafeteria, a well-equipped gym, locker and storage rooms. FIFH runs activities in 13 sports and there are more than 3000 organized activities per year. Since I happen to know one of the FIFH employees, I have been visiting these facilities on a number of occasions, and if early morning, mid-day, afternoon or evening does not matter, there is always activities going on and a lot of people around.

WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN

OK, the crucial question is what this has to do with the WPA and Pool? For the sixth time in succession our sport is connected with Malmo Open through two international Wheelchair events – the Malmo Open 8-Ball Challenge and the European Wheelchair Masters in 9-Ball. That a 6-time wheelchair World Champion happens to live in Malmo, and that the very same person also is working as a FIFH employee, is of course no coincidence. Henrik Larsson, or “Henke” among friends, is the primus motor of our little portion of Malmo Open, and needless to say – he of course participates as one of the athletes as well.

WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN

Cutting to the chase, this year’s Malmo Open 8-Ball Challenge ended in a way as so many other tournaments over the years, with a final between Jouni Tahti (FIN) and Henrik Larsson (SWE). Jouni drew the longest straw this time and won with the score of 5-3. Finishing tied for third place, Wei Te Cheng (TPE) and Tony Southern (GBR). If Henrik had to give in to Jouni in the one tournament, he took revenge on himself by winning the next. Beating Fred Dinsmore (IRL) in the final with 9-5, Henrik is the European Wheelchair Master 2024. Tied for third in this event were Jouni Tahti, who lost against Fred with 3-9 in the one semi, and Matej Brajkovic (SLO), who lost against Henrik in a much tighter match, 7-9. This was actually the very first time that Henrik won one of these events, which only goes to show that it is not easy to be both organizer and competitor at the same time.

WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN

WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN

Aside from the obligatory cups and medals, the winners were presented with some prize money, and this time around, cues donated by Predator – a very familiar name to all of us. Actually, Predator was not only present in form of a number of cues. Huidji See, the former World 10-Ball Champion and a representative of Predator, took his time to come and watch the two events. Again, things do not happen without a reason, so also this not. Henrik, who two months ago participated in the Puerto Rico Open among the able-bodied players and used the opportunity to meet with Predator. It is the ambition of “Henke” to be able to interest the company into support for Pool also what disabled athletes are concerned. Perhaps as a manufacturer of various types of aid that a disabled athlete may need?

One of the things that immediately strikes whoever is watching the various sports with all of the participants, volunteers and organizers, is the joy that everybody seems to share with each other. Another thing would be the sometimes brutal physical contact and interaction between the athletes, and here for sure Wheelchair Basketball and Para-Ice-hockey would serve as examples. If you would ever question if disabled competitors in these sports deserves to call themselves elite athletes, or even professionals (aside possibly from the financial aspect), then please make use of the next best opportunity to visit one of the venues. I am happy that I was only an eagle-eyed spectator and was not strapped to a wheelchair in one of these basketball matches or had to try to keep the puck away from the netting behind my back when one of these hard-shooting forwards were aiming in my direction.

No matter who you are out there, and where in the world you are at home, please rest assured that there will be parasport somewhere around the corner. If you yourself do have some form of a disability, Billiards Sports in general and Pool in particular does have something to offer you. Or, if you like me, would like to have fun and share your time with other people that not only do enjoy what they are doing, then yet another volunteer is always welcome!

WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN

The picture to the left is from the award ceremony of the Malmo Open 8-Ball Challenge. Standing far left is Sven Junghagen (Vice President) and in the middle Andrew Nettleton (President of the Swedish Billiards Federation), and sitting from left to right, Henrik Larsson (SWE), Jouni Tahti (FIN), Tony Southern (GBR) and Wei Te Chang (TPE). The picture to the right is from the award ceremony in the European Wheelchair Masters 9-Ball, sitting from left to right Fred Dinsmore (IRL), Henrik Larsson, Matej Brajkovic (SLO) and Jouni Tahti.

Just a few days ago the WPA Board of Directors decided to call a WPA Parasport Division into life, and already two persons have declared their willingness to contribute to the best of their ability. Believe you me when I state that both of them are very knowledgeable in the field. The one is working more than just full time with parasport as an employee at FIFH, a board member of the largest organization for disabled in Sweden, DHR, the man behind the Wheelchair Academy and a former full-time coach in Pool – Henrik Larsson. For a while he was one of the owners to two of the biggest and most successful Pool-rooms in Sweden and was performing trick-shots in front of large crowds daily. His high-score in Straight-Pool is 97 and sitting in a wheelchair I would suggest that this is more than just awesome!

The other person is currently away from home together with her entire family because of the Russian aggression in her home-country of Ukraine. She would normally be working as a professor at her sports university in Kyiv but is instead doing her daily chores at the Swiss Federal Institute of Sport in Magglingen (SUI), a university of applied sciences. As far as I know, Viktoriia Nagorna, or “Vica” among her friends, is the first and only person with a PHD with Pool (and Billiards Sports) as her field of expertise. Vica has participated in quite a few European Championships as the player she is, but probably in more ECs as the national coach for Ukraine. Vica is able-bodied and does have a great deal of scientific research in the field of sports for disabled to her name.

In the next foreseeable future, they will be keeping an eye open for a few other persons that may be interested in joining them at the head of the newly established WPA Parasport Division. If you would like to be working alongside Vica and Henke, and especially if you would be at home in Africa, Asia, America or Oceania, please get in touch with the WPA. There is a lot to be done in years to come, do we want to be ready when Billiards Sports will be part of the Paralympic Games for the first time.

Comments by Viktoriia Nagorna:WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN“Billiards has been widely utilized as an adaptive sport in global practice for quite some time. National-, continental-, and world-level competitions in Pool are regularly held, however, exclusively for wheelchair athletes. They are representing a fundamental social achievement in the humanization of the sport. While some national federations have demonstrated a strong commitment to inclusivity by offering dedicated activities and competitions for para-athletes, others have lagged in providing adequate support and resources. I am happy that the WPA is now actively working with Parasport, and I am thrilled to be part of this. I wish to do my best for the development of Parasport in the billiards structure.”


Comments by Henrik Larsson:WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPENPool has played a dominant part in my life for the last 35+ years and has for me been very much more than just an exciting sport. It has been a bridge to many important life quality items such as travel, financial income, social network, personal growth and integration.

I have served this sport in many different capacities such as: player, teacher, entertainer, organizer, pool room owner, political role and more which has helped me to get a wholistic view of the sports identity. This together with my own experienced based knowledge of being a wheelchair user my entire life, is what I hope will be beneficial for the task at hand. To be instrumental in the development of making pool a global para sport is a true honor, and I thank the WPA for your trust.

All photos with exception for the photos from the award ceremonies and the profile photos of Viktoriia Nagorna and Henrik Larsson are published by permission of the photographer, Anton Lernstål, Parasport Sweden.

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WPA Pool | WPA Parasport Division - MALMO OPEN