Interview with Chevalier Dr Jacques Rogge, IOC Executive Board Member and EOC President
by Laura Walden, from the official EOC magazine <br>
The Athletes' Power
Jacques Rogge is an Olympian (Summer Games of 1968, 1972, 1976). He was a member of the Belgian Athlete's Commission from 1968 till 1976 and was elected Member of the Board of his NOC as an athlete representative in 1972.
1. Why has the IOC included 15 active athletes when it has so many Olympians in its ranks?
There are indeed presently 25 former Olympic athletes, including 13 medallists amongst the IOC Members. Six Executive Board Members out of the 11 are also Olympians. There is however a need to involve younger active athletes. They are elected by their peers and will therefore provide for a better democracy, representativity and rejuvenation of the IOC.
2. Is an athletic past a guarantee for good sports leadership?
There are outstanding sports leaders who were not athletes but who listen to them. There are also prestigious champions who failed as sports leaders because they did not acquire the required skills and mostly also were hostages of their past. A good sports leader will benefit from his athletic past but he must learn many other skills and unite rather than confront and compete. A leader must be more consensual than an antagonist.
3. What is the role of an athletes' representative in the present classic sports organisation model?
The classic sports model is based on a democratic system where club members, including athletes, elect their representatives. They in turn elect National Federations, NOC and IF Boards. Sports leaders therefore represent also the athletes from which they receive a mandate. I therefore do not believe that athletes should become the fourth independent pillar of the Olympic Movement beside the IOC, NOCs or IFs. They are an integral part of the three existing pillars. In order however to maintain this integration, National Federations, International Federations, NOCs and the IOC must give them a direct say. Sport is changing very fast and we need a constant feedback of the athletes' requests. Their direct input will allow us to better fine-tune our policies.
4. There are however other models?
Players unions are powerful in American professional sports. They are however often in conflict with their sports leaders and have organised strikes that damage their sport. In other situations athletes took over the organisation of a part of the competition, as in tennis. There is also the growing tendency in some individual sports where athletes tend to create private structures with their own coaches, doctors, managers, etc. and therefore tend to be out of the guidance of their National Federation. There is no sacred model. For example, the International Tennis Federation has established an intelligent dialogue with the ATP and WTA. The danger of athletes unions and private teams however is greed and selfishness. In a classic, integrated model, a part of the money generated by the elite flows back through the International Federation or the National Federation to support the sports development at the grass roots level. In athletes controlled leagues this is not the case. Athletes should never forget their origins. The have a responsibility towards the base that they come from.
5. How can the Olympic Movement maintain this classic model that you seem to prefer?
One of the reasons why athletes have created unions or private structures is that they fear they do not get enough support anymore from their clubs or National Federations. Sport has become far more sophisticated and professional. Athletes train almost full time. Sports leaders however are for the vast majority still volunteers who do not always have neither the skills nor the time required and we must also admit that many sports leaders still have a tendency to be too paternalistic. Sports leaders must enter into a new dialogue with athletes. We must have better contacts and listen to them through representation and athletes' commissions, in the IOC, IFs, and NOCs. At the same time we must improve the quality of the services to the athletes by an increased professionalisation of the coaches and a far better education of the volunteers who will remain the backbone of sports organization. For many athletes sport remains a passion but has also become a profession and this requires also a contractual approach between themselves and their sports leaders. The future lies in the establishment of a Charter with the description of rights and duties of athletes and sports leaders.
6. Critics say that the Athletes' Commissions fail because of a lack of interest amongst the athletes?
It is true in many cases but mostly because we have a wrong approach. There are two critical factors, time and competence. Athletes have little time besides their training and competition. They cannot be involved in the day to day routine. Well timed meetings with athletes and sports leaders, preferably off-season or at appropriate times should be scheduled. The Athletes' Commissions should also include some representatives who just finished their active career, who have more time and can still represent the athletes for a short period. Modern ways of communication like Internet will alleviate the time factor. As for the competence factor it is a matter of education. Competing and managing sports are linked but still very different. A sports leader must acquire skills in many fields, such as management, finance, legislation, doping, media relations, etc. Young athletes do not automatically have those skills. Their role is not to run sports but to reflect their needs and their views. It is very important that they are being treated as equal partners albeit with different responsibilities. In order to give their viewpoints, athletes should also be educated in the intricacies of modern sports management.
7. How would this work in the case of the IOC?
The newly elected Members should be assembled during a Seminar and receive all the information they need on the Olympic Movement and how the IOC functions. We should also look if there are financial needs to fulfil their tasks and in particular help them with secretarial support and communication tools. There should be a discussion about their activity schedule and the fields in which they could contribute best. Above all there should be a great will to listen to them. Sport is essentially about athletes.
8. Will there be a duality between the 15 active athletes and the IOC Athletes Commission?
The 15 athletes' representatives are individual IOC Members and they have the same rights and duties as the other IOC Members. One of them will serve on the Executive Board and all will serve in the various IOC Commissions. They should however not act as a lobby group within the IOC. Official points of view and proposals of the athletes should continue to be defined and expressed by the 19 Members of the IOC Athletes' Commission. I think however that it would be wise to revise the composition of the Athletes' Commission and the 15 active IOC Members by including a representative of the Paralympics Movement and the non-Olympic sports.
9. There are multiple athletes' organisations nowadays. Isn't this confusing?
We have the IOC Athletes' Commission, which is the only one democratically elected and is the only truly representative of active athletes. There is the World Olympian Association (WOA) that regroups all former Olympic participants. Its agenda is of course different than the one of the Athletes' Commission. It is more a network of former athletes and it definitely needs a new dynamism. On the other hand, the IOC should also help the WOA and give it more means. There is a third organisation with the World Olympic Winner's Association. It has recently organised its second meeting. I question if there is a need to create a segregation within the athletes' world between those who have and have not won a medal or a diploma. Finally, there is OATH, which regroups Olympians and some active athletes. They are not democratically elected and can therefore not officially represent the athletes' views. OATH is a group with no more representativity than the 25 Olympians in the IOC, or the WOA. OATH however made valuable proposals on various aspects. It would be far more productive if WOA, the Olympic Medallist Association and OATH could merge and create a vast network of Olympians around the world. Their involvement and support would be of an exceptional value for the Olympic Movement.
10. With 15 of the 19 IOC Athletes Commission Members becoming IOC Members, isn't there a danger that electoral campaigns will arise?
I think we should review the election mode of the Athletes Commission. We must find ways to curtail intensive electoral campaigns and probably review the one athlete one vote system that favors too much the candidates of big NOCs. A system of proportional votes might be considered to improve universality, or a quota of vote per country. The IOC will balance the advantage of big NOCs, by appointing 7 out of the 19 members of the Athlete's Commission and 3 out of the 15 IOC representatives, to ensure that all continents will be represented. The future will tell which formula is the best one.