Qatar to Saudi: President Bach shows the “power of sport” as he visits the two National Olympic Committees
Taking advantage of the power of sport to build bridges, President Bach was in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on Sunday following a visit to Doha in Qatar.
On Sunday, President Bach was welcomed by the President of the Saudi NOC, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al Saud. President Bach was able to see a number of new sports facilities and hear directly from the NOC's Executive Board about a modernisation plan for sport in the country, part of the national Vision2030 reform plan. The NOC’s plans include more and better access for female athletes. He also heard about the preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Later, he met athletes at the King Abdullah Sports City. Young men and women were able to show their skills in fencing, table tennis, athletics, football and taekwondo.
Afterwards the President met the members of the newly elected Athletes' Commission - with gender parity - who were able to present their strategy for athlete engagement in the Kingdom and empowering the athlete voice.
"I'm really excited by the development of sport in Saudi Arabia at both the grass roots and elite level," said President Bach. "The enthusiasm of the young athletes really touched me, and also to see, in particular, the many young girls participating is really a very encouraging sign," he added.
Earlier, in Doha, Qatar, President Bach attended the IAAF World Championships, seeing the opening ceremony, the “midnight marathon” for women and later the evening session at the Khalifa Stadium. The Championships saw a first with the heats of the mixed 4x400m relay race, which will feature on the Olympic programme for the first time in Tokyo next year.
During his visit, President Bach was welcomed by NOC President Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. The two men were able to speak about the rising number of sports events being staged in the country. They also discussed the major backing for the Olympic Refugee Foundation given by Qatar and plans to support the Refugee Olympic Team for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
During his time in Doha, President Bach also met the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to discuss the country's support for Olympic sport and its values.
Earlier, President Bach presided over the traditional joint meeting between the IOC Executive Board and the IAAF Council chaired by IAAF President Sebastian Coe. At the meeting, President Bach congratulated Lord Coe on his unanimous re-election, following his wide-ranging reform process. The meeting also discussed the challenge of attracting young people to sport, as well as the tendency towards the politicisation of sport, which can threaten its universality.
"To keep this univerality we must apply strict neutrality and clearly show there is no discrimination for whatever reason, including for political reasons," said President Bach.
Lord Coe added, "we need to be free from political interference. We must be free to take decisions and to make judgements that we believe are in the best interests of our organisations."
At the meeting, the approach to transgender and DSD athletes was also discussed, with IOC Vice-President Ugur Erdener giving details of the IOC's working group which is preparing a framework for the International Sports Federations. They also discussed the good cooperation between the IAAF's athlete integrity unit and the International Testing Agency (ITA), particularly in relation to the Tokyo pre-Games testing programme.
Lord Coe also echoed that "the biggest challenge is to maintain the excitement and relevance of what we are doing. The landscape of sport has changed," he added.
During the World Championships, President Bach hosted a breakfast for all the IOC members present. He also visited an impressive athletics exhibition, where he met five other Olympic champions: IOC members Sergei Bubka and Nawal El Moutawakel, who were joined by Lord Coe, Lasse Viren and Alberto Juantorena.