The head of the Andorran Cycling Federation, the organizer of the most popular sports competitions in Andorra, Gerard Riart, told all-andorra.com about the trends in the world of sports in Andorra and worldwide, as well as about the peculiarities of organizing sports events in the principality:
Interview: Alla Sarina
Why did you decide to organize sports events in Andorra?
I am an amateur cyclist and a big fan of an active lifestyle. I have known the world of sports from the age of eight: I participated in various competitions, including cycling competitions, up to when I was 40. Then, I left the professional sports scene, but I did not want to change my life drastically. I had a great sporting experience, a lot of friends and acquaintances from this area and a few ideas.
The only thing that I did not have was knowledge in was the field of business. So I went to study and finished the MASTER MBA course in sports management at the University of Andorra. As a result, I left the job I had had for 22 years – working in the administration of Escaldes-Engordany and open my own company.
Today I own the company VSL SPORTS (Viu Sense Limits or Live Without Borders). We organize sports events, sports days for children, sports corporate events and activities for active family recreation. I am a licensed cyclist and a professional coach. In addition, I am head of the Andorran Cycling Federation.
We are the organizers of Andorra’s three biggest sports competitions: SKIMO6 and SKIMO10 alpine cross-country skiing competitions, Tri-Blanc triathlon and Volta als d’Andorra cycling races. I can say with confidence that over the past 6-7 years, the number of participants in these complex sports competitions, which require serious physical training, has increased significantly.
Why do you think that is?
Probably, the reason is that sports provide an excellent opportunity to avoid everyday problems at work or in the family. Sport is the best way to de-stress and relax.
Why is Andorra an ideal country for sports?
Because it is convenient to do sports here, at any time of the year. After work, you do not need to waste time to get into the sports club, as you do, for example, in huge megacities. Andorra is a small and comfortable country with beautiful landscapes. Sports in nature in winter and in summer is a great way to relax and enjoy the surroundings. It is also important that Andorra is a country with a beautiful climate, and most days of the year are sunny.
What are the new trends in the world of sports in general? What kinds of sports are becoming more popular among the residents and citizens of Andorra?
I think that new the trends are sports in the open air. The most popular sports in Andorra are mountain and cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, hiking, road and mountain bikes, as well as running in the mountains and in the city.
What sports do you plan to develop to attract tourists to Andorra?
As I said, we are organizing outdoor sports events, and we will continue to develop this direction in the low tourist season. I think we are unlikely to be successful if we do not keep up with the times. For many years, shopping in Andorra has worked well as an economic engine. Now everything has changed. Tourists need other services, other sports products, and all this in conjunction with the cultural program.
What kinds of sports infrastructure is unavailable in Andorra?
As a big fan of cycling, I would say that Andorra lacks a velodrome. The presence of a velodrome would help attract many international competitions to the country, as well as amateurs and tourists who could train on it, giving the opportunity to ride a bike all 12 months of the year. In addition, all the cycling professionals, of which we have quite a lot in the country, would spend more time in Andorra, because they could train here on cold winter days. The presence of a velodrome could also contribute to the opening of a new sports sections for children and young people. But for this it is obvious we need huge investments, which are not yet available.
Is it true that ski mountaineering is becoming more popular than skiing?
I do not think that ski mountaineering is more popular than downhill skiing now. But the popularity of ski mountaineering increases every year. After all, this is a sport that allows you to go beyond the prepared trails, enjoy wildlife and ride on the so-called powder snow, which is highly valued by many skiers. It is also a kind of sport that, after you reach a certain level, allows you to conquer mountain peaks, and then descend from them at breakneck speed, receiving a huge portion of adrenaline – this must be experienced at least once in order to understand the feeling it brings.
How far are Andorran officials involved in organizing and hosting sports events?
Andorra Tourism and the government of Andorra have been actively helping us over the past few years because sporting events attract more and more tourists. In addition, the Andorran government spends quite a lot of money on developing the infrastructure for cycling. In the principality, there are more and more tracks for cyclists. This attracts the attention of tour operators who offer cycling deals.
Do you have financial support from any of the Andorran banks in the development of your business?
I did not get any help from the banks. We started to cooperate with Morabanc, but now they are funding a basketball team. Here, in Andorra, you need to have friendly relations with the owners of banks in order to have a good sponsorship budget.
How do you plan to improve the organization and holding of sports events in Andorra?
Whenever we – VSL SPORTS – organize the event, we make a business plan to understand whether it will be profitable, and also whether we can provide two basic requirements: safety and quality. I think that the organization of events in Andorra should be done to a high standard. People who participate in races or other events should feel safe and comfortable. This is important for the reputation of the country as a whole. And it is very important for those who love the country.
I think first we need to improve the quality of the events, not the number of participants. So we will create events or races that are unique. I also believe that we need to innovate and look for new opportunities to provide new services to participants.
Who are your international partners?
Our main partner is the Catalan sportswear manufacturer SÍSMIC for cycling, skiing and running. The fabric is Italian, and production is in Olot, Girona. We also work with HOKÓ, a Catalan brand that produces thermal underwear and underwear for sports. And as for ANDORRA SKIMO, our partner is LA SPORTIVA, which has supported us from the very beginning, and we are very grateful to have them by our side.
Are there any legal restrictions on the rapid development of the sports infrastructure in Andorra?
No, I don’t think that there are any restrictions. There are requests from different organizations, but I believe that it is right to have tight control over the quality of the events held.
As an organizer, I would like to emphasize the involvement of the Andorran volunteers, without which it would be impossible to organize all our events. And I am grateful to all these people for their unselfish dedication.
I think that races such as ANDORRA SKIMO can be very interesting for new foreign investors. With the help of aerial photographs, you can see incredible mountain landscapes. And more important is the availability of good hotels in the country. Major sporting events attract many tourists to the principality.
Finally, I would like to turn to young entrepreneurs, for whom, as in my case, sports are life and our passion. Do not be afraid and take a step, even if you have a stable job. The feeling of discomfort from doing every day what you need, and not what you want is a mistake. In life, we often lack the courage to decide and find what motivates us, what we really love. It’s not easy, and everything takes time. And desire. And then together we can work together to improve sports in Andorra.