IAF 2021 Highlights
As the biggest IAF to date got underway, nearly 2,000 athlete representatives had registered to join moderator Jeanette Kwakye, an Olympic sprinter, IOC AC Chair Kirsty Coventry, and a host of other keynote speakers in the first-ever digital edition of the Forum to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission (AC) and also to take advantage of the fact that this Forum is being held digitally, invitations had been extended to all AC members globally, not just the AC chairs.
“We have three main objectives for the Forum: to inform, build, and discuss,” said Kirsty, who invited a member from each of the five continents to summarise their discussions at the continental breakouts in the days leading up to the main event. The breakouts resulted in three main takeaways: the importance of ensuring that ACs are effective; active engagement and close collaboration between ACs and other sporting organisations; and maximising opportunities to connect and interact with other ACs.
IOC President Thomas Bach encouraged attendees to make an impact on the Forum.
IOC AC Vice Chair Danka Barteková then took the floor and touched on some of the most important athlete-centered initiatives from recent times. Danka shared the progress made on the key recommendations from the last IAF, in 2019, and thanked athletes worldwide for their contribution to the athlete consultation on Rule 50 and athlete expression and the Athletes’ Declaration, which continues to be adopted by sporting organisations worldwide.
The athlete support discussion centered on the programmes currently in place including Olympic Solidarity, the Olympic funding model and how the IOC and IOC AC support athletes directly and indirectly. After an introductory presentation, Kirsty joined James Macleod, IOC Director of Olympic Solidarity and NOC Relations, and Lana Haddad, IOC Chief Operating Officer, for an engaging and live Q&A.
Lana spoke about assuring universality of financial support to athletes: “The Olympic revenue solidarity sharing model ensures that athletes from all teams and corners of the globe, regardless of their sport or background, are able to benefit from the revenue generated through the Olympic Games. That’s why we call it solidarity and we continue to advocate for it.”
During the Q&A session, Lana, James, and Kirsty took questions from many athlete representatives on topics ranging from what the IOC’s financial security looks like in a post-COVID-19 pandemic world, to the support offered to the Refugee Olympic Team.
James discussed the importance of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in making the dreams of refugee athletes come true and bringing greater awareness to the plight of 80 million refugees worldwide.
“It’s a moment to be able to look at refugees as an additional team at the Games,” he said. “It’s very important for us to be able to give them that moment and for [the refugee crisis] to be highlighted.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences for the world of sport, changing the way in which we prepare for competitions, gather as commissions, and even how we cope on a personal level.
In light of this, a panel featuring IOC AC and Mental Health Working Group member Abhinav Bindra, Olympic Champion Lindsey Vonn, Mali AC Chair Kady Kanouté Tounkara, World Rowing AC Chair Frida Svensson and IOC Medical and Scientific Director Dr. Richard Budgett shared their expertise and experiences with regard to athlete well-being. They also discussed best AC practices for supporting athletes during the pandemic and beyond.
“[Promoting mental health awareness] is not just about empowering the athletes, but about empowering the whole ecosystem that surrounds the athletes and creating a psychologically safe environment for athletes to train in,” said Abhinav. “The system is guilty of suddenly believing in the equation that a gold medal equals happiness. But really that equation needs to be reversed and happiness has to become the gold medal.”
“A lot of the time when you’re an athlete, everyone thinks you have everything going [for you] and that everything should be great all the time, but we have the same mental health struggles as everyone else and sometimes even more so,” added Lindsey. “I’m happy that the conversation has become more open, and I hope we can continue to destigmatise it. “
Kirsty then closed day one of the IAF 2021, by thanking all panellists and participants and reminding you all to tune in on day two to discuss Olympic Agenda 2020+5 and the upcoming Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
AIMS President, Stephan Fox, stated that this was the first time that the Athletes’ Forum was held in a virtual format but we must offer our congratulations to the IOC and especially the IOC Athletes Commission Chair, Kirsty Coventry and certainly IOC President Thomas Bach. This year’s Forum also marked the 40th Anniversary of the IOC Athletes’ Commission and while we honor the past, I think all athletes are looking towards the future and this also means post-pandemic planning. All AIMS federations Athlete Commissions were invited and participated in this important 2-day event discussing the two crucial topics: athlete well-being and athlete support.
There were many key note speakers and the objective of the Forum was to inform, build and discuss.
The IAF Forum ended with athletes expressing full support for Tokyo 2020. Nearly 2,000 Athletes’ Commission members registered to participate virtually at the 10th International Athletes’ Forum, the largest-ever athlete representative event that ran from the 26 to 27 May.
Athletes’ Commission members from 199 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), all summer and winter Olympic sports federations, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), all Organising Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOGs), and Continental Associations, as well as representatives from the World Olympians Association (WOA) and members of the National Olympians Associations, attended the virtual event.
Over the two-day event, athlete representatives joined together online to discuss a range of important topics. Athlete well-being and support were the key focus on day one, with contributions on the themes of mental health and safeguarding.
Updates and discussions on the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 were the highlights of the second day, in addition to a dedicated Q&A session with IOC President Thomas Bach.
Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
During the sessions on the second day, many athletes shared their excitement about and confidence in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Reflecting the successful delivery of the test events held in the past few months, athletes also expressed their commitment to respecting the measures outlined in the Playbooks in order to deliver safe Olympic Games for all participants and all the Japanese people.
Jessica Fox (Australia, canoe slalom), said: “These last 12 months have been really challenging for athletes all over the world. We’ve all had to adapt and had our preparations disrupted in some way.
“The important thing has always been detaching myself from the idea of an ideal preparation and really being set on one thing and being able to be fluid and adaptable. We’ve had to make the most of the restrictions here and not being able to travel overseas for competitions. But I’m really looking forward to finally getting over there. There’s been great communication from the IOC, and I have full confidence in everyone at the Tokyo Organising Committee to put on a safe Olympic Games.”
Tamás Tóth, World Triathlon AC Chair, reported: “Two weeks ago we successfully delivered our first bubble system in Yokohama, which was our first Olympic qualification race this year. Over 117 elite athletes competed there and I would like to reassure all of my fellow Olympians who are preparing for Tokyo about the service from the IOC, and from the host nation. From the moment that you arrive at the airport, you’re guided to your hotel, and the professionalism at the training venues was so amazing that I’m super confident about how it’ll be done in Tokyo. The Japanese perfection was there and I’m really looking forward to the Games.”
Heather Daly-Donofrio, International Golf Federation AC Chair, said, “Golf was the first of the major professional sports to come back and we’ve been holding tournaments around the world – Europe, Asia, Middle East the Americas – and, albeit a smaller scale than the Olympics, we’ve been able to cross these borders and continents safely and successfully not just for the athletes, but also for the communities and the countries in which we’ve played. Everything I’ve read coming out of the IOC and the playbooks and heard today, I’m just super confident that the IOC and Tokyo will deliver the same for the Olympic Games.”
Additionally, the participants highlighted the importance of their role in actively sharing information with their fellow athletes to ensure all athletes have the latest information and a clear understanding of the arrangements in place in Tokyo.
In the lead-up to the two live days of the Forum, dedicated breakout sessions were held for Athletes’ Commissions from each of the five continents to discuss effective athlete representation and empowerment, in addition to breakout sessions focused on anti-doping and Olympic Agenda 2020+5 recommendations.
Collectively, through the various panel discussions, Q&A sessions and breakout sessions, the athlete representatives identified the areas that require the most attention in order to empower their AC to effectively and actively represent the voice of athletes.
Fostering athletes’ rights and responsibilities
In line with Olympic Agenda 2020+5 recommendations, the following points were reinforced/highlighted by the participants of the 10th International Athletes’ Forum.
- The IOC to strengthen its effort to ensure that all NOCs and IFs support their ACs to be effective in their role as athlete representatives.
- All IFs and NOCs to adopt and implement the Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration.
- All NOCs and IFs to make their funding streams transparent to all stakeholders and communicate clearly on the various direct and indirect support they offer to athletes.
- The IOC AC, together with the mental health working group, to develop training for ACs to prepare them as they aim to better support and guide athletes in their time of need.
Kirsty Coventry, IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair, concluded: “Together, we can make a huge difference for our athletes. We need to know that we are #StrongerTogether. We will achieve more through meaningful contribution and dialogue with our entire athlete community and stakeholders across the [Olympic] Movement.”
“As we know, the world is ever changing, which means athletes’ needs are changing – this is what inspired Olympic Agenda 2020. Through the launch of the Olympic Agenda 2020+5, the athlete recommendations will address this changing landscape through a number of concrete and meaningful actions. Recently, we have seen the rise of some universal needs, and many of these trends have been accelerated by COVID-19. As challenging as the circumstances may appear right now, if we draw the right lessons, we can seize the opportunities that these challenges offer us.”