THREE QUESTIONS TO IOC PRESIDENT THOMAS BACH
“Sport has the power to change the world.” How is this famous statement by Nelson Mandela reinforced by the Olympic Movement today?
It was true then and it is even more relevant today, as the world is more fragile than ever. We are living in an age of global crises, division and discrimination. We see political crises, financial crises, health crises, terrorism and civil wars. Our society is more fragmented, more individualised and more selfish. In our troubled times, the Olympic Movement more than ever stands up for the ideals and values that define us – excellence, respect and friendship, and also universality, diversity, sustainability, peace, inclusivity, credibility and solidarity.
The IOC is above all a values-based organisation, and our mission is to put sport at the service of society and to make the world a better place through sport. This important role of sport has been recognised by the United Nations through a resolution which highlighted sport as “an important enabler” to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, it was even reinforced by a UN Resolution in 2020 which recognises that sport and physical activity “have the power to change perceptions, prejudices and behaviours, as well as to inspire people, break down racial and political barriers, combat discrimination and defuse conflict, as reflected in the political declaration adopted at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit in 2018.”
By adopting Olympic Agenda 2020+5 – the strategic roadmap for the next four years – while the world is still battling the global health crisis, we remain relevant not only in an immediate post-COVID world, but also for future generations. Olympic Agenda 2020+5 shows our commitment to strengthening the role of sport in society, thus making sport a force for good in the world.
COVID-19 is changing our society and how people can practise and engage in sport. What lasting impact do you foresee for a post COVID-19 Olympic Movement?
The coronavirus crisis has affected all areas of society, including the world of sport, significantly. The most significant impact for us was the postponement of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. At the same time, we have also seen how sport has made positive health, social and economic impacts on society at large. Sport has been widely recognised as an essential factor in fighting the pandemic, which still persists in many countries. Sport has also been accepted as an integral part of the solution for the crisis recovery, which is already underway in other countries.
If there is one lesson that we have all learned from this crisis, it is that we need more solidarity. More solidarity within societies, and more solidarity among societies. We have shown in recent months that we are indeed #StrongerTogether. For the Olympic Movement, herein lies our opportunity: we should partner up with international institutions and make our contribution through sport to make a better, more inclusive world through solidarity. In this way, we can be part of a truly transformative response to the global challenges based on unity and solidarity, guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
This context of solidarity is also why I have proposed to add, after a dash, the word “together”, to the Olympic motto of “Faster, higher, stronger”. This way we would demonstrate that we are living up to our core value of solidarity that, indeed, we can only go faster, we can only aim higher and we are only stronger – together.
As we have seen, the coronavirus crisis has changed our world in fundamental ways. The world will never again be like it was before. As leaders of the Olympic Movement, we must prepare ourselves for this new world. In order to shape our future, we need a vision of how this new world will look. Olympic Agenda 2020+5 is our vision for the future of the Olympic Movement. The 15 recommendations that make up Olympic Agenda 2020+5 address five trends: solidarity, digitalisation, sustainability, credibility, and economic and financial resilience. These trends have been identified through robust research as likely to be decisive in the post-coronavirus world. They are also areas where sport and the values of Olympism can play a key role in turning challenges into opportunities. Our aim is and will remain to contribute to building a better world with even more solidarity.
In Olympic Agenda 2020+5, recommendation 12 focuses on reaching out beyond the Olympic communities. Can you tell us what specific role the academic community has in this endeavour?
With this recommendation we aim to engage and interact with diverse social groups, foster dialogue and leverage programmes that reach beyond the Olympic community, including cultural, scientific and educational communities.
Since the IOC was founded at Sorbonne University in Paris 127 years ago, the academic community has played an important role in the Olympic Movement. Pierre de Coubertin was, as we all know, first and foremost an educator, so from the very first moment of its foundation, there was an inseparable link between the Olympic Movement and education.
Today, the academic community still has a fundamental role in helping the Olympic Movement to maintain and popularise the Olympic ideals and advance understanding about the relevance and impact of the Olympic Movement in today’s society. On one side, university professors expose the young generation of students to the Olympic Movement and Olympic values in the classrooms. On the other side, the knowledge generated through academic research greatly contributes to addressing the key challenges and opportunities of the place of sport and the Olympic Movement in society and reminds us of the importance of our origins and values.
Let me extend my thanks and gratitude to all professors and researchers for their work and for delivering invaluable messages on key issues such as the legacy of the Olympic Games, the engagement of young people in sport, the role of sport in social inclusion, protecting the athletes, good governance or the promotion of gender balance. This important work contributes to the intellectual foundation for us to spread the ideals of sport and the spirit of Olympism in today’s world.