26 Jan 2021

Respected worldwide as the leading name when classification was required for Para events, Dr Juraj Stefak passed away on Saturday 23rd January following a long illness, eventually losing his battle with cancer.

Born in Trnava, Slovakia on Wednesday 7th February 1951 he was 69 years of age.

He attended his first classification seminar in 1997 and became an international classifier in 2001, head classifier in 2009, serving for more than 20 years; every year he spent over four weeks as a ITTF medical classifier and volunteer to perform the essential duties.

Following in the footsteps of Aart Kruimer, Dr Stefak led the classification team from 2011 to 2017, in addition fulfilling the role of team doctor for the Slovak National Para Team. In his hometown, he was a highly respected orthopedic doctor.

A graduate of the Faculty of Medicine in Bratislava; his first contact with disabled sport was in the 1980 following a meeting with a blind colleague, Paralympian Jozef Buros, who at that time was engaged in paracycling and cross-country skiing.

Owing to his medical background, Dr Stefak was invited to competitions for the disabled in Orava, an area in Slovakia where he lived his whole life. An interest growing in sport for the disabled, his first official participation in an international event was his presence as a doctor at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games held in the French towns of Tignes and Albertville. Notably the last such event for Czechoslovakia prior to dissolution on Friday 1st January 1993, becoming the separate nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The event ignited a Para career. He became a regular participant at the European Championships and World Championships fulfilling the roles of doctor, interpreter, and administrator. In 1994, he was nominated as the head doctor for the Slovakian team at the Paralympic Games in Lillehammer. Soon after he was approached by Mrs. Hanková who helped with disabled volleyball players.

Also, in 1996, he was also elected to the National Paralympic Executive Committee, where he served until 2018; thus, he enjoyed more than 22 years as an official of the Slovak Paralympic Committee.

Notably in the world of table tennis, he proved a stalwart of the Slovakia Para Open and a most valued member of the Para executive committee. Alongside, his status as head of classifiers, he renounced the positions in 2017, owing to ill health. In most recent times he was a member of the National Paralympic Disciplinary Body as well as being doctor and senior classifier for the International Table Tennis Federation.

Clearly unwell in 2019, true to his character of supporting Para table tennis, Dr Stefak attended the Egypt Para Open and Asian Para Championships; unfortunately, later in the year in September he was unable to attend the European Para Championships being in need of urgent surgery.

Paralympic Games attendances:

  • 1992 Albertville: Head Doctor Slovakia
  • 1994 Lillehammer: Head Doctor Slovakia
  • 1996 Atlanta: Head Doctor Slovakia
  • 1998 Nagano: Head Doctor Slovakia
  • 2000 Sydney: Head Doctor Slovakia
  • 2004 Athens: Chef de Mission, Slovakia
  • 2006 Torino: Deputy Chef de Mission, Slovakia
  • 2008 Beijing: Head Doctor Slovakia
  • 2010 Vancouver: Head Doctor Slovakia
  • 2012 London: ITTF Chief Medical Officer
  • 2016 Rio de Janeiro: ITTF/PTT Classification Officer

Wu Sheng, ITTF Para Table Tennis Classification Officer, alongside Petra Sörling, ITTF Executive Vice President and Jan Riapos, Paralympic Games gold medallist and President of the Slovak National Olympic Committee, paid tribute.

“It is such heart-broken news. My best friend Dr Juraj Stefak passed away. For me, he was a giant in ITTF/PTT. After I took the position of the classification officer, he always gave me the greatest support and encouragement. Both of us worked together in two Paralympic Games, four World championships, and many regional championships. Now I feel so lonely without his guidance, this is a big loss for his family, Slovakia, and the ITTF. Last year, we even promised each other to meet in Tokyo for the 2021 Paralympic Games. This wish cannot now be fulfilled. I promise to maintain fair classification and competitions in Tokyo. I know you will watch us from heaven with your big smile.”

“In the past ten years, the Para table tennis classification system was recognized as one of the fairest amongst Paralympic sports. Juraj’s contribution to it was enormous; his honesty, kindness, integrity, passion, and professional work was very much appreciated. Juraj was a man of wide interests such as collecting stamps, hiking, and reading history books. I always enjoyed talking to him. He was a good friend and philosopher.“ Wu Sheng

“Time may pass and fade away but memories of Juraj Stefak and what he did for our Para table tennis family will always stay. Juraj was passionate in his work as a classifier for more than 20 years; his goal to ensuring fair play will always be remembered as well as his friendship with all of us during the years.” Petra Sörling,

“At the age of 70 years, Juraj Stefak, a member of the Slovak Paralympic family, left us after a long and demanding illness. A great deal of work, having participated in the successful history of the Slovak Paralympic Committee, where Juraj played a significant role also leaves with him. For many years he devoted himself to the medical classification for athletes in several sports; the tasks moved him to Para table tennis where he worked at the IPTTC as a Medical Officer, that he took over after Aart Kruimer in 2009 and handed over to Wu Sheng in 2017.” Jan Riapos

A man of great integrity, the contribution made by Juraj Stefak to Para sport is immeasurably, sadly missed, never forgotten, our condolences to his family.

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