The important role that sport can play in helping the world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic was emphasised by the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, at a high-level European Commission conference entitled “The recovery of the sport sector after the COVID-19 crisis: the way ahead”.
Delivering his keynote address via video, President Bach, who is currently visiting Tokyo to discuss preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, highlighted the various ways sport can contribute to society in the wake of the pandemic and called on the governments of the world to include sport in their post-COVID-19 recovery plans.
“It is undeniable that the health, social and economic contribution of sport is an essential factor in fighting the pandemic and in the crisis recovery,” he said. “This coronavirus crisis is already changing our world. Even once we have finally overcome the health crisis, we will still face the far-reaching social, financial, economic and political consequences. This new world will need sport and its values. This is why the IOC is fully committed to continuing to promote the role of values-based sport in society.”
Following an opening address by Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, in which she spoke of how sport can also contribute to Europe’s economic development and social inclusion, President Bach stressed the positive impact sport can have in these key areas.
“Sport has a great social significance by being the glue which bonds communities together,” he said. “Sport promotes inclusive societies, because all too often sport is the only activity that unites people regardless of their social, political, religious or cultural background. Such inclusivity is even more important in otherwise deeply divided societies.
“Sport plays a significant economic role. It creates jobs, generating business activity. In Europe, for example, research shows that sport contributes more than 2 per cent to GDP; a contribution which makes sport economically more important than a number of more traditional economic sectors.”
Also highlighted by President Bach was the importance of sport and physical activity for physical and mental health and to combat communicable and non-communicable diseases.
The IOC President stressed that sport can thus make a valuable contribution in delivering, in various ways, on the priorities of the European Commission, adding that the sports community is ready to be a meaningful partner in this effort.
Recognising these benefits, 118 Member States of the United Nations (UN) have already called for all States to include sport and physical activity in their recovery plans post-COVID-19. This call was also echoed by the Sports Ministers of the 27 European Union (EU) Member States. President Bach urged others to follow their lead, while also identifying the powerful platform that sport and the Olympic Games can provide for bringing nations together in solidarity and unity, following the detachment and isolation caused by the coronavirus crisis.
“We are all still learning every day. But I hope very much that the first lesson from this crisis, we have already learned. And that lesson is: we need more solidarity. Solidarity within societies and solidarity among societies. Solidarity is at the heart of the Olympic Games, which unite the world in all its diversity. In these difficult times, we need the Olympic values more than ever.”
President Bach recalled that solidarity is at the core of the European Sport Model, and that is why the values and robust solidarity funding mechanisms of this model should be strengthened.
His call was echoed by European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, who said that the future priorities of the European Commission in the field of sport will also aim to strengthen this model, given that, in a post-COVID-19 world, sport and its values will be needed more than ever.
The IOC President concluded his speech by looking ahead to next year’s Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. “We are working at full speed with our Japanese partners and friends to make the postponed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 a great demonstration of solidarity,” he said. “Together with the Japanese government, the Organising Committee and many more, we are preparing for all 206 National Olympic Committees [NOCs] to come together in a safe environment in Tokyo next year, to give a signal of hope and resilience to all humankind. In this way, the Olympic flame can be the light at the end of the dark tunnel that we are currently in.”
IOC Member Marisol Casado was also among those participating in the discussions and spoke about the direct support the IOC has offered to organisations, International Federations (IFs) and athletes within the Olympic Movement affected by the crisis.
“As the leader of the Olympic Movement, the IOC has played a critical role in supporting its stakeholders since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis,” she said.
“The IOC has actively supported NOCs and IFs through an aid package of up to USD 150 million, to enable them to continue their sports and activities at all levels, and their support to athletes, coaches and all members of the sporting community. To date and as needed, USD 100 million have been allocated to them. The IOC is also supporting more than 1,600 athletes from 185 NOCs and the IOC Refugee Olympic Team with Tokyo 2020 Olympic scholarships for a total cost of USD 15 million, allowing them to continue their preparations for these postponed Olympic Games next year.”