Kirsty Coventry: Athletes' voices need to be heard and valued
Athletes from the Olympic Movement have come a long way in having their voices heard. Just last year, 4,292 athletes, from 190 countries and more than 120 sports disciplines, shaped the Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration.
And as the athletes’ world becomes more complex and faces different needs and issues, we have to continue making progress. Building on the adoption of the Athletes’ Declaration by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session on behalf of the Olympic Movement, we need more ground-breaking steps for athlete representation. It is crucial that our views are effective and valued at every level of the sports movement.
As Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, I believe we should always be open to hearing everybody’s thoughts. Being able to have different opinions and figure out a way forward makes us better and stronger.
The International Athletes’ Forum held this weekend in Lausanne will give us a great opportunity to do exactly that and have constructive exchanges.
For the first time, we have extended the invitation to representatives from all 206 National Olympic Committee athletes’ commissions. This will increase the expected participation to more than 350 athletes, making the ninth edition of the forum the biggest-ever gathering of its kind.
Other participants will include representatives from the athletes’ commissions of all the Olympic Summer and Winter International Sports Federations, the Association of National Olympic Committees, the Continental Associations of National Olympic Committees, the Organising Committees for the Olympic Games, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Paralympic Committee and the World Olympians Association.
The Forum will give us a chance to listen to each other, have constructive discussions on critical topics and learn collectively from our experiences. Athlete representation, prevention of harassment and abuse, physical and mental well-being, the financial model of the Olympic Movement, direct and indirect support to athletes, and the fight against doping are just some of the critical topics in which we see change coming through a tough and long process.
We can progress on these issues more effectively by working together to have a stronger voice in influencing the Olympic Movement and playing an active part in its governance structure. This is why the Athletes’ Commission Strategy developed in 2017 was named “All in”.
One of our goals is for all athlete representatives to be empowered through a worldwide network of effective Athletes’ Commissions. For them to be effective, we recommend that they have balanced representation between men and women, sports and disciplines, regions and countries, and active and recently retired athletes. They should comprise a majority of elected members with minimum four-year terms and who are represented with voting rights on the organisation’s highest decision-making body.
As we continue to turn our strategy from paper to practice, we try to lead by example. The majority of the IOC Athletes’ Commission members are elected by the 10,000-plus athletes at the Olympic Games and nearly 3,000 at the Olympic Winter Games. After that, appointments might be made to ensure we achieve the recommended balance in representation to further diversify the expertise on our Commission. As the Chair of the Commission, I represent the athletes on the 15-member IOC Executive Board; and another 14 athlete representatives have joined the IOC membership and have voting rights at the IOC Session.
Increasing representation from the National Olympic Committees at the Forum will lead to viewpoints from across the world and the Olympic Movement being expressed, which also highlights the importance of the solidarity model within the global network of athlete representatives.
Solidarity is a concept that guides the Olympic Movement. It guarantees that the revenues from the Olympic Games reach all sports and corners of the world and are not just concentrated on those that are the most successful or most visible.
As part of the latest Olympic Solidarity Plan – which runs across 2017-2020 – almost half a billion dollars is being spent on various global and continental programmes, providing athletes and their coaches with a good basis on which to train and qualify for the Olympic Games and to improve the support system around these athletes. This 2017-2020 investment represents a 16 per cent increase on the previous cycle.
I have said numerous times that I understand and empathise with the challenges that athletes face to reach the peak of their careers. I faced the same challenges. Coming from a country in Africa with a limited ability to support sport, I received an Olympic scholarship over a number of years. This allowed me to pursue my education and my athletic career.
Understanding the important role of the solidarity model, we also recognise the need, and will continue, to enhance our direct and indirect support to athletes. By engaging with athletes from around the world, recognising the issues the community faces, and having an open dialogue, we will be stronger together.
Chair – IOC Athletes’ Commission