Keynote speakers at Day 2 of the XIII Olympic Congress called for a concerted worldwide effort to promote physical activity, and warned of “very direct, brutal attacks” on the autonomy of sport.
In a keynote address on the theme “Olympism and Youth”, President José Ramos Horta of Timor-Leste called inactivity a serious and growing threat to world health. Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, cited World Health Organisation figures showing that nearly 17 percent of the world’s population are physically inactive, and 41 per cent are insufficiently active to benefit their health.
He said the problem “threatens to become as urgent and critical” as global warming and poverty.
“At the national level sport must be made compulsory in schools. With urbanisation on the rise, national governments must make every effort to include recreational facilities in the development and planning of their cities” he said. “At the global level countries must unite, as they have on issues concerning the climate and more recently nuclear disarmament, to find ways of effectively promoting physical activity,” he said.
The call to protect the autonomy of sport came in a keynote address on the theme “The Structure of the Olympic Movement” from Thomas Bach, IOC Vice-President and President of the German National Olympic Committee. He said sports organisations face constant threats to their autonomy.
“”These attacks come in many different forms,” he told the Congress delegates. “You will hear about governments’ attempts to prevent elections, to appoint presidents of sports organisations themselves and to manipulate voting. Many of you in this room have even suffered personally with your families. You deserve tremendous respect and gratitude for your commitment to the autonomy and values of sport.”
Bach has personal experience of political interference in sport. He, the Olympic fencing champion at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, was not able to participate in the next edition four years later due to the partial boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. He said that sport deserves autonomy because of its unique role in society.
“Sport is the only social sector that has actually achieved what political philosophy calls "global law", and what moral philosophy calls "global ethos". The rules of sport, based on the principle of fair play, apply to every athlete all over the world. These rules can only be enforced by an autonomous sporting structure, which also created them. They help to protect fair competition and promote the competitiveness of athletes and federations. This is the fundamental distinction between a sports organisation and a business,” he said.
Addressing another topic related to young people, Horta said that technology can be used to encourage activity.
“Choosing the healthy option does not have to be difficult. But it has to become part of our everyday lives, and we have a responsibility to help our children make that choice.” He added: “If we want to get our children healthy and we want to get them moving, it is time to meet them on their own terms…We must not be afraid of embracing what technology has to offer.”
The “Digital Revolution”, and its meaning for society at large and for the sports sector in particular, is the final Congress theme and a separate item on tomorrow’s Congress agenda.
Read the full speech of President José Ramos Horta
Read the full speech of Thomas Bach
Video: All the speeches of the Olympic Congress plenary sessions