Seung Min-ryu, the 2004 Olympic men’s table tennis champion from the Republic of Korea, has enjoyed an unforgettable year on the IOC Athletes’ Commission, which has taken him from serving as Mayor of the Olympic Village in PyeongChang to the negotiation table as relations between the two Koreas improved through sport, and finally to the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018, where he mentored the next generation as an Athlete Role Model. Here, Seung explains how he has been advocating for athletes’ rights every step of the way, and how his various roles demonstrate that the athletes’ voice has been present at the top table of Olympic Movement decision-making throughout 2018.
Athletes of the future
The Youth Olympic Games were an unforgettable experience for me, and I was really honoured to be there. I’m so proud of all the young athletes: not only competing against each other but respecting each other and having conversations with each other as well.
I was in Buenos Aires from the start as an Athlete Role Model: first taking part in the Olympism in Action Forum, then going to the table tennis venue to play with some local Argentinian children who hadn’t played before. I hope they learned something from the experience – but I also learned many things from them about their passions and their dreams.
I also played [in Buenos Aires] with a young athlete from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which was a really unforgettable moment. It has been an amazing year for Korea, with great changes in the relationship between South Korea and North Korea through sport since the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
This is the power of sport to change the world: it can change our conversations and our relationships. As an IOC Member and as a member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, it is a huge honour for me to be part of this project.
In PyeongChang, I watched the first match between the unified Korean women’s ice hockey team and Switzerland, which left a fantastic impression in my heart. Even though we lost 8-0, all the spectators, all the officials and even the IOC President stayed to applaud and meet the players. It was a really fantastic moment.
PyeongChang was the first time I ever participated in the Olympic Winter Games – and I was Mayor of the Olympic Village. It was a special experience and a really big responsibility; we organised Welcome Ceremonies for athletes from more than 75 countries as they entered the Village.
Working for athletes around the world
It has been a busy year for me and my colleagues on the IOC Athletes’ Commission, with many important issues and objectives, such as anti-doping and athletes’ rights and responsibilities. We’re working very hard to support athletes, and we had a really positive meeting after the Olympism in Action Forum in October.
In April 2019, we have the next International Athletes’ Forum, which we hope will be bigger than ever. In 2017, we had about 100 athlete representatives; but next year, we hope that more than double that number will come to Lausanne and share the experience. It is another opportunity to promote the Olympic values – but also to promote and secure athletes’ rights and responsibilities for our future.