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People: Hein Comeyne, chief co-ordinator, Confederation of Traditional Flemish Games

Chief coordinator, Confederation for Traditional Flemish Games

Published in Sports Management 02 May 2016 issue 119
Comeyne says old sports have cultural significance
Comeyne says old sports have cultural significance

In an age where media coverage of sport is dominated by a handful of team sports and the main Olympic disciplines, it is easy to forget that there is a plethora of historic sports and games still played actively around the world. Different forms of shooting and throwing, combat sports and tugs of war are not only the forefathers of many modern sports, but continue to be eagerly contested in their own right.

Keeping traditions
The need to protect historic games was recognised by UNESCO, which in 2003 published its convention for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage (ICH). Within its document, UNESCO states how “traditional sports and games are part of our intangible heritage and a symbol of the cultural diversity of our societies”. As a result, the European Traditional Sports and Games Association (ETSGA) was set up to protect and promote traditional sports across Europe.

One of its member organisations is Vlaamse Traditionele Sporten (VlaS) – the Confederation for Traditional Flemish Games. Headquartered in Belgium, VlaS predates ETSGA – it was set up in 1988 – and has been used as a template for any organisation wanting to help with the conservation of traditional sports. It currently acts as an umbrella organisation for more than 20 types of traditional games.  

Endangered species
An important aspect of VlaS’ work is to make the players themselves aware of the cultural significance of their activities – and to encourage others to take part. “Among the sports we represent are bottle shooting, vertical archery, krulbol, jay bowling and shuffle board,” says Hein Comeyne, VlaS’ chief coordinator and a traditional sports enthusiast.

“We organise events which bring a number of the disciplines together to showcase them to the public. We demonstrate the sports through small tournaments and let the public try out the games.”

Comeyne compares the work that VlaS does to that of organisations which protect endangered wildlife. “Why do we fear the dying out of unknown species? Because we would lose diversity which we value as being a treasure. It’s important to keep these traditional sports alive because of the riches offered to us all by having a diversity of games to share,” he says.

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