all for rg and rg for all: a conversation with erik moers
Erik Moers' work to make rhythmic gymnastics a fair and accessible sport started 30 years ago, since then, he has started a meaningful conversation about corruption in the world of international judging, helped design one of the top half-shoe brands, helped a large number of gymnasts in need of legal or professional help and promoted the sport like no one else. With an admirable diplomacy and a strong moral compass, he fell in love with the sport in the 1990 World Cup in Brussels and since then he has devoted his life to the correct development of the sport. He has been mentioned in the the Washington Post during the investigation process on the occasion of the judges scandal in the intercontinental course in Bucharest 2012. He was also a national judge, president of the technical commission for RG and member of the board of directors at GymFed (Flemish Gymnastics Federation) from 2001 to 2012. In 2011 he moved with his family to Prague, where he lives now.
During a fascinating conversation with him we got a chance to discover how his presence in the international rhythmic gymnastics panorama came to be.
How it all Started
Erik was witnessing the Brussels World Cup thirty years ago in the Men's Artistic Gymnastics discipline, when Artistic and Rhythmic Gymnastics held their cups together. When he bumped into Alexandra Timoshenko, Oksana Skaldina and Albina Deriugina, he discovered his passion for the sport. He saw the pale and thin gymnasts and he wondered if looking so weak they could have the strength to perform at high level. The contrast with the big muscles and bulky shape of men's artistic gymnasts, it seemed impossible to him. When he saw their long and intense workouts, he realized that looks aren't everything. He didn't know that rhythmic was about to turn into a huge part of his life.
"Coming from Artistic Gymnastics and knowing what an effort it takes achieve a certain level, I couldn't believe that the skinny and pale girls of rhythmic in the 90's could be strong. But how wrong I was when I saw the training they were doing... What an effort, what a power, what a training! So difficult, so heavy! That's when I understood, how difficult this sport is"
Years later, he opened his own business in Belgium, an LTD providing Sasaki exclusively in the country. Rhythmic gymnastics found its way into his romantic and family life giving him a bigger insight and more experience about the intricate world of competitive RG. He met his wife Jana Vesela in a competition in Croatia and soon after he hired her services as coach for an assignment in the Olympic training centre in Tata (Hungary). Now they have two kids together.
Opening the best club in Belgium
Erik was first involved in the opening of Happy Gym in the Belgian city of Gent as a vice-president of the club, which is still running to this day. Bianka Panova, one of the Bulgarian golden girls from the 80's was a coach there, and Jana Vesela was after hired after. The idea was to open the best club in the hands of experienced coaches with vast knowledge on high performance RG. This however did not happen as the different ideas in regards to coaching styles and responsibility roles made it impossible.
Not finished in his resolution to open a successful gym ran in a more peaceful fashion, Erik and Jana opened the "No Limits Gymnastics" club in Antwerp (Belgium). They also ran from 2001 until 2011 the No Limits Open, a FIG qualified international tournament. Through these events Erik met what later became his network: coaches, judges and people involved in the sport from all over the world.
In a competition in Huelva, in the south of Spain he met Antonio Sanchez, who was asking for advice in creating toe shoes for rhythmic gymnastics. He and Erik had a conversation about the needs gymnasts have when it comes to footwear and what things should be taken into consideration manufacturing them. This is how the international breakthrough of Dvillena was created, official suppliers of the Spanish Gymnastics Federation, as well as the Hungarian, Finnish and Romanian Federations and the best international gymnasts from Spain, Brazil, Canada, Italy, Germany, Australia, USA, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Norway, Poland and France. In 2014, when the famous half-shoe brand started exporting out of Spain, Erik became a contact manager and talent scout for abroad, and he contributed to the duplication of revenue the company experienced in the next five years.
Activism against corruption
On March 2013, Erik created the Facebook group Ban unfair judging and corruption from Rhythmic Gymnastics, which now has 2.1K members. This was after the disciplinary commission of the International Gymnastics federation had to face a big scandal in Bucharest in 2012. The Facebook page was his response to this. Now, many FIG executive committee members follow this Facebook group. There has been evidence that Russian people have been reading this page secretly without joining. Whether people agree or not with his statements, there is no doubt Erik and his page are influential for many insiders to keep an eye on what he is sharing on Social Media.
He also set up a change.org petition that is now closed since it was made to put pressure on the Code of Point we have for this cycle when it was first made nearly 3,000 signatures. Many of them are from important figures representing the sport such as e.g. Almudena Cid.
Erik is polite and diplomatic yet vocal about the issues involving corruption in gymnastics. He doesn't accuse without proof, but he empathizes disadvantaged athletes that sometimes don't get the score they deserve.
"On the page you can see I am never accusing anyone, or saying names. But I do speak up about injustice. I know the cheaters, I know them by name and they know that I know"
Speaking of Almudena Cid, she has been good friend of his throughout the years. They first met when Almudena was only twelve years old in the 1992 World Championships in Brussels. Erik took a young Almudena to the complex where the big stars were, as he could tell the passion and adoration she had for the sport and wanted to encourage the young promising athlete. Later on she made it 4 times to the finals in the Olympics of Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Bejing.
With his experience managing big projects and ties connecting him to Spain all around, it is no surprise that he is helping with the Basque Federation organising the Euskalgym gala in Bilbao (Basque Country) to life every year by recruiting gymnasts all around and sometimes preparing their contracts. This event is one of the biggest galas in the world with 8,000 to 10,000 spectators. His connection to Almudena was what brought him to this project in the first place, as she is from the region, and she's very active in the promotion of RG in Spain.
To this day, Moers still helps in any way he can to all the athletes in need, trying to reduce unfair judging and making the sport attractive for everybody. Make sure to join his Facebook page!