The International Olympic Committee’s 10th International Athletes’ Forum was held online on Wednesday and Thursday, with a focus on a variety of issues beyond the Tokyo Games. But Tokyo highlighted the discussions on Thursday, with a reassurance that the event will take place as scheduled.
More than 2,000 current and former athletes, many of whom are members of the Athlete Commissions in their own countries or for their own sports, took part in the program, which began with a taped greeting from Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto. It included:
“Some of you may feel worried or uncertain about the Tokyo 2020 Games. But I am here to tell you that my mission is to make absolutely sure the best possible Covid-19 preventive measures are in place and prepare a Games that all of you can participate in with confidence and pride. …
“To make sure that the Games are safe and secure for all of you, and for the people of Japan, we have compiled the rules and guidelines included in your Playbooks. The final edition will be released in June.
“Next week, on 3 June, Tokyo 2020 will share a first look at the victory ceremonies, and the announcement will be live-streamed worldwide.”
That will be of high interest, especially to the protesters-in-waiting, already planning their demonstration.
The IOC also announced a new program, called the Athlete Moment, where an athlete can invite up to five people to join a video chat for 60 seconds or so following their final competition. As they exit the field, court or pool, a monitor (apparently) is to be set up for them to they can greet their family and friends (up to five) via a Web link, before they head to the mixed zone.
This is a poor substitute for having family and friends in the stands, but as this is not possible in Tokyo with no foreign fans allowed, it’s a technology-based substitute. And, of course, it comes at the expense of the news media, including the rights-holding broadcasters.
As for the Tokyo experience, the IOC’s Olympic Games Operations Director, Pierre Ducrey (SUI), emphasized:
“We feel in the Village we can deliver a protected environment. Outside, it’s much more difficult. … There will be no opportunity to go roam around town and discover Tokyo. We know it’s very unfortunate, but we feel this is the price to deliver safe and successful Games. So this will be, I would say, the biggest change when it comes to the experience of the athletes.”
As for getting the Olympic athletes and staff to do the right thing, a suggestion from the Argentine athlete commission got a smile from everyone:
“We want help for the ‘10 Commandments’ as we call them – those 10 top issues that cannot be forgotten and that athletes have to remember 24/7 – we want to guarantee that those ‘10 Commandments’ are read by everybody, memorized and not forgotten. So if you could help us in setting up these ‘10 Commandments’ with those 10 absolutely essential ideas that they cannot forget when they are in Tokyo, that would be of great help.”
IOC Athletes’ Commission chair Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) replied:
“We love the idea. We’re totally going to steal the ‘10 Commandments’ and make more work for the Commission and team. But we love the idea of taking those ‘10 Commandments’ and putting them into the welcome packs, which now will be on the phones that all of the athletes get, so we love that idea, we’ll definitely look at doing that.”
(Look for something like this as a laminated card that can be worn with an accreditation badge to help keep the points top of mind.)
IOC President Thomas Bach (GER) took the stage for almost two hours, answering questions from athlete representatives from around the world. He was not asked even once about whether the Games will take place, but was thanked again and again for the IOC’s efforts, in cooperation with Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese government, for working to make the Games happen.
Many of the questions had to do with governance issues, especially within International Federations and National Olympic Committees, about more promotion of Olympic athletes and Olympic sports in their regions, corruption and so on. But there was one exceptionally interesting exchange, with China’s Yang Yang – a two-time Olympic gold medalist in short track and a Vice President of the World Anti-Doping Agency – proposing new rules to “protect clean and qualified athletes right to participate” in the Games.
With the Beijing 2022 Winter Games coming next February, this was an obvious invitation for Bach to launch into an anti-boycott address and he was ready, with a 518-word reply, delivered without notes:
“With regards to the politicization of the Olympic Games and boycotts, the position of the IOC and the Olympic Movement is very clear. Our mission, enshrined in the Olympic Charter, is to unite the world and to be the event – the only event – which brings the entire world together in a peaceful competition. And we can accomplish this mission only if we are always building bridges. If we are erecting walls, then we become divisive. And politics, as you know, is divisive. There are always different points of view, and if one wants to impose his or her point of view on others – and vice versa – this becomes very divisive and we could never accomplish the mission. And this means, and I am coming to your proposal with regard to the Olympic Charter, that we have to be politically neutral.
“In the Olympic Games, there can be no discrimination for whatever reason, whether it’s religious, whether it’s political, whether it’s sexual orientation; there, in the Games, we all need to be equal and we all need to respect each other and we need not only to respect the diversity, we need to embrace the diversity. We need to be happy that it’s possible to come together even if you have a very different culture, even if you have a very different political opinion. That we can come together and that we can agree on the Olympic values. And that this is what we are standing for, beyond all the differences we may have.
“Therefore, we have in the Olympic Charter, enshrined not only these values, we have also enshrined the political neutrality of the IOC and the Olympic Games and in order to protect there, the National Olympic Committees from political pressure in their countries which may arise. And myself, I had to make this experience at the time when we had to boycott Olympic Games there in 1980. And as a consequence, we then put later into the Olympic Charter the obligation for National Olympic Committees to take part in the Games of the Olympiad. You cannot make it for the Winter Games because not every country can offer winter sports, but it shows the overall philosophy and obligation on the one hand, political neutrality has to be respected by all the components of the Olympic Movement, and on the other hand, not only the right to take part in the Games, but the obligation to take part in the Olympic Games and in this way to contribute to this unifying mission, to this unifying power of the Olympic Games.
“I think this is what we, now, in this divisive – in this aggressively divisive – world we are living in this moment. This is something what is maybe more needed than ever and what also the world is really looking for, to have at least this one area, of sport and in particular, Olympic Games, where we can still come together, where we are sharing the same values, and where we show that we can co-exist in friendship while having, maybe, the toughest competition of our life.”
Comment: Having this question come from a Chinese Winter Games icon and directed specifically at boycotts while calls mount for removing the 2022 Games from China for its abuse of its Uyghur minority and other provocative actions begs disbelief that this was not arranged in advance. Bach gave his standard, detailed answer, but it wears thinner and thinner over time. The issue is not Moscow in 1980, but holding a Games in a country under circumstances more like Berlin in 1936.
There was also a question from 2010 American Olympic Pairs skater Mark Ladwig about athletes signing “waivers” in advance of going to Tokyo; he noted “I don’t remember having to sign anything like that.”
In fact, he did, but it came from the U.S. Olympic Committee, not the IOC directly. IOC Chief Operating Officer Lana Haddad (IRQ) explained:
“The entry forms have been actually in place for previous Games and have been updated to include Covid-19-related consideration. This is really to provide transparency and ensures informed consent from the Games participants.”
“It’s even in the regulations … Even I, when I was participating in the Games – just a couple of years ago! – I remember that I had to sign the entry forms.”
The entry form’s genesis is from the by-law to Rule 44 of the Olympic Charter, including:
“All participants in the Olympic Games in whatever capacity must comply with the entry process as prescribed by the IOC Executive Board, including the signing of the entry form, which includes an obligation to (i) comply with the Olympic Charter and the World Anti-Doping Code and (ii) submit disputes to CAS jurisdiction.”
Agreeing to abide by the Olympic Charter means, among other things, accepting the strictures of Rule 40 on commercial rights and Rule 50 on protests. Every athlete who wants to compete in the Games must agree to abide by the event owner’s requirements … or they can skip the Games.
This was the 10th International Athletes’ Forum and was held 40 years after then-IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch (ESP) created the first IOC Athletes’ Commission, of which Bach was a member. Bach’s IOC has demonstrated, as much or more than any other IOC administration, their devotion to athlete opportunities, especially in Tokyo.
That stance used to be a sure winner, but the question of how “athlete-centric” plays in today’s “aggressively divisive” world will be tried in Tokyo this summer and then in Beijing next February.
For our updated – as of 1 May – 506-event International Sports Calendar for 2021 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!