On the spot

Joël Bouzou

President, World Olympians Association

The World Olympians Association held its second World Olympians Forum April 15-17 in Lausanne. What did this gathering bring to WOA in terms of fresh ideas, reflections and opportunities of collaboration? 

The World Olympians Forum was an overwhelming success, bringing together 150 Olympians from 107 National Olympians Associations around the world to share ideas and collectively explore how we can deepen Olympians’ connection to the Olympic Movement and the value that we bring.
Our aim was to not only celebrate the role Olympians play in society but to share and create practical ways we can better support and empower them and secure their legacy as the enduring ambassadors of the Olympic Games.

To do this it is essential that we listen to the voices and opinions of Olympians from different generations and sports, representing different nations worldwide. It is only when we come together to share ideas and experiences that we can truly understand the issues that matter most, and it is only by working together that we can find solutions to these challenges.

Ultimately we want to continue to strengthen and grow our global Olympian network and provide the best possible support for Olympians.

The Forum was organised back-to-back with the IOC Athletes’ Forum and a joint session was held. How do you see this collaboration in the future, as athletes are claiming for more recognition? 

The joint session was part of a wider commitment between WOA and the IOC Athletes’ Commission to work in collaboration to ensure that there is continuous support for athletes and Olympians at all stages of their lives. In Lausanne, we had close to 500 athletes and Olympians come together with a shared purpose and commitment to listen and discuss ways to improve the pathways of support available across Athletes Commissions and National Olympians Associations.

It was great to see athletes and Olympians working collaboratively, exchanging views, sharing ideas and strengthening relationships – all focused on how collectively we can best support athletes and Olympians in their sporting and non-sporting lives. We believe this has been a valuable experience that has laid the groundwork for a unified and effective network for future cooperation between athlete and Olympian representatives across the Olympic Movement.

Olympians are true role models for the next generation of sportsmen and women. They are key in the transmission of Olympic and sport-related values to the youth of the world. How does the WOA catalyse the experience of Olympians to “give back” to the youth, the disadvantaged, developing countries, etc.? 

WOA’s mission is to support the needs of Olympians worldwide and empower them to give back to society. Olympians are the vital ambassadors of the Olympic Games – a living legacy of the Olympic ideals – and they have a responsibility to use that position to make a positive difference in their communities.
We assist them in this in many ways. At a global level our WOA Grants Programme supports the delivery of Olympian-led projects that help Olympians and help them give back to their communities. Since 2016, WOA has given more than 120 grants to support National Olympians Associations worldwide. Projects have ranged from drowning prevention programmes in India and Lithuania, an Olympian-run community chicken farm in Zimbabwe, bringing sport to orphaned children in Malaysia and those affected by conflict in Colombia.

We inspire Olympians to give back by recognising them with OLY status. OLY is an honorary title given to athletes who have competed at an Olympic Games. It serves as a constant public reminder of Olympians’ achievements in the field of sport, as well as a symbolic recognition of their status in society and their commitment to furthering the Olympic values.

At a local level, our National Olympians Associations work to provide opportunities for Olympians to give back, through activities and initiatives aimed at tackling local issues and spreading the Olympic values. A particular highlight is Olympic Day when Olympians worldwide mobilise with their National Olympic Committees to engage the next generation and get them active.

Many Olympic Cities do mobilise or wish to mobilise “their” Olympians to activate their Olympic legacy and promote sport for all. Do you have any tips to share with Olympic Cities on how best to mobilise their “local” Olympians or Olympians who participated in “their” edition of the Games to promote sport and Olympism-related projects?    

When asked, Olympians are in general always happy to get involved and give back. They want to be connected to Olympic-related activities and lend their support to projects or causes that help spread the Olympic values.
In Korea, in the lead up to PyeongChang 2018, and currently in Japan ahead of Tokyo 2020, NOAs in both countries have been actively involved in visiting schools, establishing mentoring programmes and running projects to help build momentum and public support for the Games.

Olympic Games anniversaries also provide a focal point for Olympic legacy activities that Olympians can be part of. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Olympic Games Mexico City 1968, Olympians from across the world were invited to return to Mexico City and, in London, the Great Britain Olympians held a dinner for the 1968 GB Olympic team.

As mentioned above, WOA encourages Olympians to be especially active on Olympic Day. Often the best way to reach Olympians is through the country’s National Olympians Association – click here for the NOA directory – which has direct contact with many local Olympians and will be able to work with the city or organising committee to help mobilise them. Led by Olympians, for Olympians, NOAs often work alongside the National Olympic Committees. They are a great source of information, history and knowledge based on lived Olympic experiences and are a valuable resource.