In his opening speech to the 136th Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – the first-ever Session to be held by videoconference - IOC President Thomas Bach today emphasised the importance of sport in helping the world recover from the COVID-19 crisis. He also recalled the unique power of the Olympic Games to bring the world together in peace and solidarity, and without any discrimination.
Sport and physical activity have proved to be extremely important to stay healthy physically and mentally during this unprecedented time, as recently demonstrated during the celebration of Olympic Day. On 23 June, half a billion people around the globe were introduced to the IOC’s #StayStrong #StayActive #StayHealthy campaign through the world’s biggest digital Olympic workout.
However, the importance of sport goes beyond health and can play a key role in post-COVID-19 recovery plans, said President Bach in his opening speech to the IOC Session.
“Sport has great social significance by being the glue which bonds communities together. Sport has great economic significance by creating jobs and generating an important contribution to GDP. For all these reasons, sport is an essential factor, not only during the crisis but also for the recovery from the crisis. This is why we have repeatedly called on governments to include sport in their corona recovery programmes. And our actions have been recognised and our message has been understood by many,” said Bach.
Recognising the essential role of sport in advancing society, 118 Member States of the United Nations (UN) have called for all States to include sport and physical activity in their post-COVID recovery plans and to incorporate sport and physical activity into national strategies for sustainable development. He also gave a number of other examples, from the G20 Leaders’ Summit to the EU Council and the World Health Organization.
In his speech, President Bach also recognised that the momentum of solidarity initially prompted by the pandemic will need to be sustained in order for the world to overcome the crisis.
“This crisis is far from over,” Bach said. “As I outlined in my ‘Olympism and Corona’ message last April, this situation will need all our solidarity, creativity, determination and flexibility.”
“In fact, the corona crisis shows us again that to respect each other is not enough. We have to help each other. The major lesson is: We need more solidarity within societies and among societies.”
In this context, the Olympic Games appear to be a powerful platform to demonstrate solidarity and unity.
“We must even strengthen our efforts to convince governments and the entire international community of the irreplaceable value of the Olympic Games. It is the only event today that brings the entire world together in peace, solidarity and without any discrimination,” said the IOC President.
President Bach recalled that non-discrimination has been at the core of the Olympic Games since the days of its founder, Pierre de Coubertin, and the Olympic Games have lived up to this principle throughout the years.
“The athletes from the 206 National Olympic Committees and of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team are living this value of non-discrimination. This was demonstrated in a unique way by Jesse Owens, the legendary four-time Olympic champion. At home, he had to suffer from the painful reality of racial segregation. In contrast, in the Olympic Village, he was living together as an equal with all the other athletes enjoying the same rights.”
Talking specifically about the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, President Bach said: “In this spirit of solidarity, we are also preparing the postponed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. We can, together with the Organising Committee, turn these postponed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 into an unprecedented celebration of unity and solidarity of humankind, making them a symbol of resilience and hope.”
The IOC President also pointed out how the spirit of solidarity that is enshrined in the activities of the Olympic Movement has prevailed even more over the last few months. He said: “Ninety per cent of our revenues are dedicated to solidarity actions. This solidarity is also at the heart of our corona crisis management, as reflected by the approval of an aid package of up to 150 million US dollars for our stakeholders to enable them to continue their support and sports activities.”
Concluding his speech, President Bach said: “We all know that this journey will not be an easy one, but we sportspeople are used to giving it our best, we are used to embracing change, and we are used to seizing opportunities. We have demonstrated this in the last couple of months when we all together strengthened the relevance of sport in society. If we continue to stand together in this unity and solidarity, we can emerge from this crisis even stronger than before.”
“The post-corona world needs sport to overcome the crisis. We stand ready to contribute to this recovery. The fragile post-corona world needs the unifying power of the Olympic Games. We are more determined than ever to build bridges, to bring the world together in peace and solidarity, to celebrate the unity of humankind in all our diversity.”
IOC President Thomas Bach finished his speech by announcing: “If you, the IOC Members want, I am ready to run for a second term as IOC President and to continue to serve you and this Olympic Movement, which we all love so much, for another four years.”