ITU Athlete report from IOC Forum
The 3rd International Olympic Committee International Athlete Forum
Dubai, October 27- 28, 2007
Report from Richard Stannard, ITU and ETU Athlete Representative
Two years ago I had the privilege of representing the International Triathlon Union at the second IOC International Athlete forum held at the IOC Headquarters in Lausanne. It was once again a privilege to be asked to represent the ITU at the third forum in Dubai. HRH Haya Bint Al- Hussein had offered to host the event and for the first time the forum was away from Lausanne.
HRH Haya Bint Al- Hussein, wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minster of the United Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, is an Olympian in evening. HRH is President of the FEI (Federacion Equestrian International) and a member of the IOC Athletes Commission.
Proceedings began on Friday evening with a welcome Barbeque at HRH Princess Al- Husseins Private Beach Villa. As with most things in Dubai it was five-star service. Sergey Bubka, Chairman of the IOC Athletes commission, addressed over 70 attendees including representatives from over 30 Olympic Sports.
The Forum began early the following morning at the Midinat Jumeriah Conference Centre, with Sergey reporting on the findings of the 2nd Forum in 2005 and the progress which has been made since then. Two salient features emerged from his report:
Progress has been made since 2005 in the Anti-doping campaign with the increased participation of Athlete Whereabouts Programs. It was clear from recent events involving track and field ]the work of WADA and the IOC needed to be broadened and further intensified. Continuous vigilance was paramount.
The Athletes Career Programme continued to be a success. However, the need to be extended to a wider range of National Olympic Committees was recognized to help a greater number of athletes, especially those from countries with developing National Federations and Olympic Committees.
We were then introduced to our Working Group leaders and several guest speakers, one of whom was Jonathan Edwards, Olympic Gold Medallist and World Record holder in the triple jump. Jonathan addressed the attendees and gave an excellent speech on his career path, adjustment to life after sport and some of the issues he faced. One point which was very revealing was his struggle to come to terms with the fact that maybe his life had peaked. He asked how he could replace the emotions of a stadium full of people all clapping in time to watch him perform and break the World Record or win Olympic Gold.
The forum then divided into the customary three working groups to discuss:
Athlete Education and Career Management led by Robert Ctvrtlik, moderated by Barbara Kendall
The Athletes Image and Network led by Charmaine Crooks, moderated by Hicham El-Guerrouj
Involvement of Athletes in the preparation of the Games led by Manuela Di Centa, moderated by Frankie Fredricks.
I was a member of the Athletes Image and Network working group. We had two guest speakers on the subject, namely, Anne Montminy a former Olympic diver from Canada who is now an attorney and Melinda May from the IOC Marketing Department whose former employer was Coca Cola.
Melinda gave an illustration of how sponsors use athletes in their marketing campaigns. She illustrated the subtle differences between global advertising and national or local advertising. Annes presentation was about Team Canadas Funding program and how it was structured.
Our group then spent the next few hours discussing the topics arising from these presentations. Several interesting points emerged and the conclusions are summarized below. We established many athletes need education to understand their value to a potential sponsor and how this value differed depending on whether an athlete came from a country with a well established National Olympic Committee or from a country with a developing National Olympic Committee.
The late afternoon session finished with a summation of the days discussions and a rough draft of the conclusions for presentation the next morning.
With the days working finished I headed out for some training. I was fortunate as, by coincidence, my sister currently resides in Dubai. With her local knowledge she had told me about a weekly race held in Safa Park in the middle of Dubai. There was unique quality to this race or more specifically the venue. Dubai is rapidly turning into a dense development, albeit a unique and attractive one. Consequently, there are not many suitable places or soft places to run. However, the ever-resourceful keepers of this ever-changing city have laid a rubber matting the whole way around Safa park in order to create a soft surface for people to run on. A 3.4km rubber matted run surface fully light surrounds the park and on a Saturday night attracts the Dubai Road Running club who stage a one-lap or two-lap race. My sister had entered me earlier in the day for the two-lap race and it was an interesting sensation to run on what looked like concrete and felt like wet sand. I managed to win the race but was a bit away from the course record set by an international runner who had himself been passing through Dubai.
Later that evening the International Athletes Forum re-convened for a superb dinner held at the seven-star Burj Al Arab Hotel. Opened on December 1st 1999 and designed to look like a billowing sail from a racing yacht, the 321-meter high Burj is recorded as the worlds tallest hotel. The rooftop helipad was used by Tiger Woods to promote the Dubai Desert Golf Classic and the double-skinned Teflon coated woven glass fibre screen, is white by day and is used as a canvas for a rainbow spectacular light display at night.
As the IOC Athlete Commission delegates arrived at the Hotel the fountain outside the hotel exploded into life and gave a five-minute display finishing with a mass of water and fire from explosive cannons behind the fountain! It was a memorable evening.
All the working groups returned to the Murjan Room to present their recommendations. IOC President Jacques Rogge gave an introductory address to the forum and explained the IOC would do everything possible to implement the recommendations from the working groups. With regard to Athlete Education and Career Management he said the recommendations will apply in particular to the Youth Olympics. Special thanks went to Richard Dick Fosbury for his help with the World Olympians Association. The World Olympians Association unites 100, 000 Olympians from around the world.
Robert Ctvrtlik presented on behalf of the Athlete Education and Career Management working group and was followed by Charmaine Crooks on behalf of the Athletes Image and Network. The key recommendations include:
It is important to educate athletes about their value, worth and responsibility to continue to be role models and advocates by using their image in a powerful way:
Develop a database of Olympians to be called upon for promoting collective activity programmes.
IOC to work with sponsors on ways to utilize athletes in humanitarian and social responsibility programmes.
Develop education programmes for athletes on self-marketing during and after their sporting careers.
Encourage athletes to work with their National Federations on marketing initiatives.
The power and impact of the athlete networks needs to be explained using technology, multimedia platforms and the sharing of best practices:
Consider ways in to get athletes on the executive boards of National Federations and National Olympic Committees
Provide National Federations and National Olympic Committees with governance tools and sample templates to enhance and develop athlete commissions
Create dedicated communication vehicles to disseminate relevant information.
Finally, Frank Fredricks stood to speak on behalf of the Involvement of Athletes in the preparation of the Games working group. Just after he began we had a welcome interruption as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his entourage walked in. We all stood as he moved around to sit next to his wife HRH Haya Bint Al- Hussein and President Jaques Rogge at the front of the room. The Sheikh then addressed us with a stirring speech on Dubai and how he believed anything was possible if you had the ability to first imagine it and then the determination to get on and do it. This was certainly a special moment for the forum to be in the presence of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his wife HRH Haya Bint Al- Hussein.
Once the Sheikh had left Frank continued to present for his working group but before he could finish we were interrupted for a second time in order to individually meet with both the Sheikh and HRH. Surrounded by his entourage we were introduced one by one and then moved outside for a group photograph.
We re-convened and Frank finally got to finish his presentation despite the two false starts! The 3rd International Athlete Forum was then formally closed.
ITU and ETU Athlete Representative.
P.S. At a final lunch which rounded off the proceedings I chatted with Dick Fosbury, famous for inventing the Fosbury flop which he used to win Olympic Gold in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. He told me that he was only an average high jumper until a particular training session when he tried a different technique of going over the bar backwards and raising his hips. He increased his personal best by 15cm! He thus moved from an average jumper to a possible contender in one training session. The rest is history.