Who better than the athletes to share and exchange experiences about their place and role within the sports movement and society in general? And who better to express their desires and opinions about their life and career? This is why, every two years, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), through its Athletes' Commission, brings together athletes from around the world, representatives of the 35 International Olympic Sports Federations and of the five Continental Associations of the National Olympic Committees. This year, the third edition of the International Athletes' Forum was organised in Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, following an invitation launched by the IOC member, member of the Athletes' Commission and President of the International Equestrian Federation, HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein. At the centre of the Forum's discussions were three of the most important themes for the athlete of today and tomorrow: Athletes' education and career management; athletes' image and network, and involvement of the athletes in the preparation of the Games.
Education: a key factor in the success of a balanced athlete
In his introductory speech, the Olympic pole vault champion and Chairman of the IOC Athletes' Commission, Sergey Bubka, recalled what he knows perfectly: in an athlete's life, at the end of competition, a second competition begins: the competition of life. On this fundamental issue, all the participants recognised that, in addition to career management, acknowledging the importance of education is a key factor in the successful development of a balanced athlete. They positively acknowledged the importance of the Athlete Career Programme and encouraged further expansion into countries and areas in which it does not exist. One of the recommendations is to encourage the IOC and the World Olympians Association to work together and to create a mentoring network to work with athletes during their sports career, teaching them the importance of education, transition preparation and career management.
Use of the athlete's image in a powerful way
In modern society, image is very important, and even more so if you are exposed to the world which, more than ever, is a reality for today's athletes. The Dubai Forum underlined the importance of educating athletes about their value, worth and responsibility to continue to be role models and advocates by using their image in a powerful way. To achieve this, it was recommended to develop a data base of Olympians who can be called upon for activation activities, and to ask the IOC to work with sponsors on ways to utilise athletes in humanitarian/social responsibility programmes. In parallel, the power and impact of the athletes' networks needs to be expanded using technology, multimedia platforms, and sharing of best practices. The participants all agreed on the possibility of making it compulsory for athletes to be on the executive boards of IFs and NOCs.
Get more involved in the Games' preparations
At 10 months before the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Games, it was logical to raise the issue of the involvement of athletes in the preparation of the Games. There was unanimous agreement about the important role to be played by athletes in the preparation and staging of a successful Olympic Games. To achieve this, the participants believed they must be involved from the beginning (candidature phase) to the end (debrief of the Olympic Games) in all matters related to athletes' activities, and they also thought that an athlete should be part of the OCOG executive board. The Forum also encouraged all NOCs, IFs and National Federations to establish and, where necessary, reinforce the role of the athletes' commissions as soon as possible. Sharing information, experience and expertise between various athletes' commissions was highly recommended. It is important that athletes who have gained experience through their involvement share it with their colleagues.
Speaking on the closing day of the Forum, IOC President Jacques Rogge recalled the responsibility of athletes to express their concerns and provide recommendations for unsolved problems. He ensured them that the IOC would always encourage the involvement of athletes on every level of the sports movement, and for any type of issue. President Rogge invited each of the athletes to: "Express yourself – be it bilaterally or on the platform offered to you. Tell us what you think, what you want, what you feel, so that we can integrate your recommendations into our policies. So that we can work together for the good of the athletes." During his stay in Dubai, President Rogge had the opportunity to meet HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who also addressed the forum the same day, and HRH Princess Haya bint Al Hussein.