As Vice-Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Chair of the Lausanne 2020 Coordination Commission, and member of the WADA Athlete Committee – all while competing at the top level of her sport – Danka Barteková is a shining example of an active athlete playing a key role in Olympic Movement decision-making. Here, she reflects on her journey to becoming a leading athlete representative and explains how she wants to inspire more athletes to share their voice.

  • Slovakian shooter Danka Barteková has found a similar passion representing the interests of athletes
  • As Vice-Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, she has become a key voice in Olympic Movement decision-making
  • Danka and athletes from all over the world will be discussing key topics at the 2019 International Athletes’ Forum

I’ve never been just an athlete. I also studied at university while performing at the highest level. It was never a question of having to think about my future for me. The most important people in this regard were my parents. Since I was a child, they always told me to go to university and think about my career. No matter how great sport is, it will end one day, and you will have to retire. You can’t compete in sport forever, and you have to be ready for the next stage.

Even though I am still competing, I have tried to be active off the field of play. Early on, I tried to think about my future career, and I decided that what I really loved was representing my peers.

My first experience within sports administration was at the Youth Olympic Games Singapore 2010 when I was a Young Ambassador for Team Slovakia. It was a great experience, and I told myself that I wanted to go further.

I studied Sports Diplomacy, and the subject of my thesis was International Relations and Sport Diplomacy. I then got involved with the Slovakian National Olympic Committee (NOC), and they helped me out a lot. They secured me an internship working for the European Olympic Committee’s secretary, and I spent three weeks there. That’s when I decided to run for the IOC Athletes’ Commission (AC).

Leading the global athlete community

I always wanted to represent athletes within the IOC. It’s been my dream. I told myself: ‘Why not be the voice of the athletes? Why not bring my knowledge, expertise and experience to try to protect athletes wherever I can?’

We all have our issues and we all face the same situations: we compete, we train and we perform, and a lot of us don’t think about what’s coming next, how to protect our interests or how to make sure our rights are represented.

I had good support from my NOC. They gave me the opportunity to stand in the IOC Athletes’ Commission Election in 2012, which was an amazing, life-changing moment for me.

A lot has changed since I was first elected. We are an extremely hard-working commission, and we have done a lot of great work protecting athletes, making them more visible and representing them well within the Olympic Movement.

Representing your needs

When I decided to run for the position of IOC AC Vice-Chair, I knew it would involve a lot of work. It’s a really tough job because you know that athletes put their trust in you and believe that you can be the one to represent them.

Whatever feedback and information we get, we have the power to pass it on and ask the IOC President, the Executive Board and the IOC Members for their support. The position of Vice-Chair gave me more credibility within the IOC to make the case for the athletes’ needs.

It’s important for us to be more vocal and more proactive in our steps, so we need to be the leaders in athlete representation and be a part of every single decision that is made. Of course, I believe we also need to get proper feedback from our peers, so I believe in two-way communication, from us to the athletes and from the athletes to us. We need to listen to them, get feedback wherever possible and bring their voice to the decision-making process.

Improving communication
I’ve now been part of the IOC AC for six years, and I have witnessed how important it is to help and support athletes on their way; not only during their sporting careers, but also after retirement. What really matters is that we listen to athletes, collect their feedback and take action to address their needs and represent them at the decision-making table.

The athletes’ community is large and there is a wide range of opinions and attitudes towards current hot topics. We are quite diverse and sometimes opinion differs, but we all agree on how important athlete representation is, and how we should work together to support athletes. I believe that over the next two years it will be really important to continue listening, learning, cooperating and unifying the voice of the athletes.

The most important things [the commission] have achieved so far include the Athletes’ Declaration, the Career+ programmes we run for athletes and the support we give you through Athlete365. We try to communicate well, inform you about what we do, and structure everything in a very athlete-friendly way to bring all the information under one roof. That way, you know what’s there for you.

Through Athlete 365, we want to offer support both on and off the field, whether your career is on-going or has already finished. Success for us is to mobilise and empower the global network of athletes’ commissions to get involved and be willing to regularly share their feedback with us.

We represent you in every single decision that is taken

Athlete involvement in every decision

Being a member of the IOC AC is amazing, because when I go to the Olympic Games and head to the Olympic Village to meet people, they know I’m there for them. If you have any issues, you can come to me, and this then empowers me to relay your feedback back to the IOC. It’s amazing to know that the IOC really listens to the athletes. We represent you in every single decision that is taken, and that makes sure your interests are well-protected.

There are many ways for athletes to get involved, but obviously, we want to communicate with everyone who is interested in being part of the decision-making. We are here to represent you, listen to you and make your feedback heard.

My advice would be to get in touch with us with every problem you want to raise. We are the voice of the athletes, and we can bring up these issues and vocalise them wherever we can.

The 2019 International Athletes’ Forum will be special as it will be the biggest Forum yet. We will welcome nearly 350 participants, who will have the opportunity to discuss issues important to them and find common solutions to questions related to athlete representation, sporting and non-sporting careers, integrity and anti-doping, communication and many other topics. I hope we will have constructive discussions, hear many experiences and points of view and come up with recommendations for the future.

Danka and the other members of the IOC Athletes’ Commission will be hosting more than 300 athlete representatives at the 2019 International Athletes’ Forum, taking place on 13-15 April in Lausanne. To find out more about the Forum and how you can join the discussion, click here.