Former Slovenian pole vaulter Rožle Prezelj’s term as chair of the IAAF Athletes’ Commission has recently come to an end, but he’s set the bar high in making athletes’ voices heard. Here he discusses his experience and the impact he’s had within the IAAF over the past two years.
Before I came to the IAAF Athletes’ Commission I was also a member of our Slovenian Athletics Federation’s athletes’ commission and we were really successful.
The chairman was an Olympic champion [Primož Kozmus, hammer] and by education, I’m a lawyer. Together, we made an exceptional team; he was the face, and I was the brain.
From there, I decided to become a candidate for the IAAF Athletes’ Commission. I wanted to bring what I learned at the national level to the international level.
A fresh perspective
I saw a lot of possibilities to make improvements for the athletes. But when I first came to the IAAF I must be honest, I was a bit disappointed. We would just meet, discuss, take a photo, and go home. I really wasn’t happy with this; it was an underestimation of athletes and their voice.
So when there was an opportunity at the IAAF Athletes’ Commission to elect a chair, I put myself forward, because with my background and also my knowledge and education, I could bring a fresh vision to the table.
The IAAF had undergone major changes in its governance structure over the past two years, and when I started my role our commission reflected the structure that was, at the time, in place. But in the last two years, we improved a lot. We really became an Athletes’ Commission with a vision, which, I think, is crucial in being effective.
We are very proud that we achieved better conditions for an athlete’s entry into the contract with the IAAF. This contract helps to fund aspects of an athlete’s career, including the amount of money they receive for their training.
We were also successful in advising athletes on how they could secure personal coaching for the IAAF World Championships.
And recently, we sent a survey to all national athletics federations, so that now we have direct information and contacts. We are building this network so that our communication will be smooth in the future.
Since Sebastian Coe became President of the IAAF, he immediately gave us the power, or, rather, the opportunity to be represented on the IAAF Council.
From 2016, we sat on the Council, but from 2019 we will have two seats and it must be one man and one woman – which is very important. With this, the responsibility has risen. It’s this responsibility that matters.
When I became chairman it was my responsibility to direct athletes, but when we received our seats, the responsibility became even bigger. Not only in our relationship with the athletes, but within the organisation, which gave us the opportunity to voice our worries and express our desires.
My term has finished – I am taking a new job in the Slovenian Sports Ministry – and I wish the best of luck to my successor, Iñaki Gomez.
I will, however, continue to be involved in the work of the commission, helping them with the experience I have and serving as a link to the federation as advisor to the IAAF President.
There is lots of work to do, and we must maintain our pace in moving forward.