French triathlete Jessica Harrison is a two-time Olympian who was directly involved with athlete representation in her sport for over a decade. Reflecting on her time as chair of the International Triathlon Union (ITU) Athlete’s Committee, Jessica details some of the important work that the committee has done, her thoughts on best practices, and her hopes for the future of the group and athlete representation as a whole.

  • French triathlete Jessica Harrison served on her sport’s Athletes’ Committee for over 10 years
  • With her time as chair coming to an end, Jessica reflects on some of the key ways in which they were able to empower triathletes
  • Read her story for advice on how to make the most of athlete representation, both personally and on a governance level

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have served on the ITU Athletes’ Committee and as Chair over the last 12 years.

It all started in 2006. The former president of ITU, Les McDonald, came up to me, grabbed me by the shoulder and said: ‘Look, you’re a mouthy one. We need athletes’ representatives who have got things to say’.

It was just before the ITU election and that’s how I got into it. That evolved with the ITU constitution progressing from having just one athletes’ rep to two – a female and a male – and then into a committee. I did that for 10 years, on and off.

I wasn’t always the chairperson, but I was always involved. As chair, my role was to engage as many of the younger triathletes – not only active ones but those who had recently retired too – to ensure we had a bigger pool of athletes who were involved in more than simply providing feedback, but in governance and liaison roles to other athletes’ commissions.

I know that the incoming committee members have exceptional motivation and experience, both as athletes and future sports administrators, and I’m excited that a new batch of current and former athletes have the opportunity to work alongside them.

Putting athletes first

The major thing we did was keep an eye on the budget – ensuring that we utilised any opportunity to increase prize money or athletes’ benefits, such as covering the costs of hotels and transport. We kept an eye on that to make sure budget allocations were coming our way.

Away from budgeting, we looked at support services, from education and careers advice to the psychological aspect of stopping sport through injury or even eating disorders that come from competing in endurance sports.

We also ensured that we had a guest seat at every ITU Executive Board meeting, where an athlete can be invited to join – either from the committee or outside the committee – to experience an executive board meeting for themselves, to learn a little bit more about governance. That was a great result in terms of helping athletes get involved in the political side of things.

In a first meeting people can be hesitant; the second they’re a little more proactive, and after that, they’re suggesting really great ideas 

Encouraging future athlete leaders

In the past, getting all of the members to contribute to the committee was challenging. But we’re talking about athletes who don’t necessarily have experience of governance, so they lack confidence in knowing how to engage with the committee in order to get the building blocks in place.

I believe I helped steer the other members, encouraging them to follow their own interests. Once they started getting involved, they were up and running. With active athletes, you have to be very aware that they’ve only got a small portion of not just time, but energy available.

I feel that I was able to step back and allow others to flourish. Simply grabbing people and sitting them down builds momentum. In a first meeting people can be hesitant; the second they’re a little more proactive, and after that, they’re suggesting really great ideas and doing things off their own back.

Passing the baton

Now, the incoming committee members will be able to take the ITU Athletes’ Committee forward in dynamic and innovative ways.

I always felt welcome and integral to meetings, and I learned an enormous amount. I am leaving a full, active ITU Athletes Committee with motivated individuals who understand governance.

Athlete representatives from all IFs and National Olympic Committees will be able to share best practices and discuss key issues at the 2019 International Athletes’ Forum, which will take place on 13-15 April. To find out more about the Forum and how you can participate, click here.