Nine recommendations to empower athletes at all levels globally were formalised following the 2019 International Athletes’ Forum

Two years on from the Forum, we look at the work that has been done toward these goals

Highlights include a huge increase in funding for athletes’ commissions worldwide, and greater support for athletes regarding well-being and mental health

Kirsty: “We listened to the collective voice of athlete representatives at the International Athletes’ Forum in 2019, and these nine recommendations have shaped the work of the IOC Athletes’ Commission over the last two years. We truly believe that athletes are at the heart of the Olympic Movement and are key to shaping the future of world sport, and these updates on each recommendation below show how we have worked to accomplish this.”

1. To strengthen athletes’ representation

Increased and quality engagement

The IOC AC Strategy focuses on all the key areas of strengthening athlete engagement and empowering athlete representatives. In this respect, the IOC and IOC Athletes’ Commission (AC) are working directly with Olympic Movement stakeholders to support ACs globally. Since the 2019 Forum, the IOC AC has held over 15 calls with the global network of ACs to gather feedback on a number of topics, most recently the impact of COVID-19 and the postponement of Tokyo 2020. This global network of athlete representatives has been considerably strengthened through this increased engagement and has helped the IOC AC capture more comprehensive and dynamic feedback on the matters most important to athletes.

Understanding the needs of athlete representatives

We have also recently started an extensive mapping process of the athletes’ commissions across the Olympic Movement. In order to better understand the current needs of athletes’ commissions and further improve the resources and support we provide, we sent a self-reporting tool to all NOCs and IFs about their athletes’ commissions. This questionnaire is the main platform for NOC and IF ACs to directly provide information on the current status of their commission in regard to membership, elections and engagement.

Equipping athlete representatives

During 2020 and 2021, a series of workshops were delivered to AC Chairs to support them during the pandemic and in effectively running their AC. The first session in June 2020, “How to hold an effective webinar”, was designed to help ACs deliver their projects and activities online rather than physically. The second workshop concentrated on assisting ACs on giving and receive feedback, as well as equipping participants on ways to have courageous conversations with members of their community. The third workshop was delivered in February 2021 and its focus was on how to thrive during times of uncertainty. It encouraged AC Chairs to reflect upon the challenges that 2020 presented and also to look ahead and plan for 2021.

Consulting the community

Through the IOC AC consultation on Athlete Expression and Rule 50, the global network of ACs contributed significantly to the IOC AC’s work. ACs around the world promoted the IOC AC’s survey to their athlete communities and it resulted in over 3,500 responses from elite athletes and Olympians. Additionally, 21 ACs held calls with the IOC AC to provide their feedback and position to the IOC AC. In April 2021, Kirsty Coventry presented the IOC AC’s report on Athlete Expression, and its recommendations relating to Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter were approved by the IOC Executive Board.

Additionally, Athlete365 launched In Your Corner, the boxing-exclusive portal on the road to Tokyo. An Athlete Ambassadors Group was created to liaise with boxers and promote the athletes’ voice.

2. To strengthen the solidarity funding model

A working group that includes IOC AC Chair Kirsty Coventry was established to lead this important work, which aims to ensure that the Olympic funding model and its impact are communicated more clearly to athletes. The working group is collaborating closely with selected IFs and NOCs in a pilot project to communicate how athletes are supported both directly and indirectly by the Olympic Movement.

3. To strengthen direct financial support for NOC Athletes’ Commissions

Since January 2020, yearly grants worth USD 10,000 have been available to all NOCs to support the activities of their AC, or to set one up. Funded by Olympic Solidarity, this could eventually add up to a support programme of about USD 10 million per Olympiad.

Sixty-one NOC ACs have already benefited from this initiative. Applications have been received from NOCs in every continent, and the projects supported so far include awareness and education workshops for athletes, and the organisation of national athletes’ forums.

As an example, the NOC of Ukraine wasted no time in applying for funding for its NOC AC and, in early 2020, organised a series of webinars for its athletes on topics such as goal setting, self-improvement and social media tips. For the full story, see here.

For more information about the NOC AC activity grants and how to apply, click here.

4. To strengthen the support for career transition

Athlete365 has increased the number of resources available to you since the Forum, with more than 40 career-focused articles.

Athlete365 Business Accelerator

Supported by Olympic Solidarity, the Athlete365 Business Accelerator Programme was launched successfully. In 2020, more than 5,000 athletes and entourage members – including 230 Olympians – engaged with the pilot year of the free online Business Accelerator course, with successful candidates going on to attend expert-led, in-person workshops held across three continents, and 11 Olympians receiving a personal mentor to help launch their projects.

This year, the programme kicked off on 5-6 May with a three-hour bootcamp for five teams segmented around the globe. Athletes then shift into an incubation period when they can better engage with business experts and professionals in virtual hangout sessions and online courses. The final phase enables 30 Olympians to be mentored by experts through a six-month period, preparing for the launch of their very own business. The programme is free and available to all athletes to start, and a great deal of interest was shown during the initial opening of the registration period.

Athlete365 Career+ programme

Athlete365 Career+ launched the Power Up Online Workshops in July 2020. This online edition of the Outreach programme aims to build a foundation for increased self-knowledge, confidence, self-esteem and leadership capacity among athletes and their entourage, open to everyone in six languages. With over 720 participants from over 60 countries (athletes and entourage members), 100% found the workshop very valuable or valuable for their lives and will recommend it to others, and 99% of them felt empowered to start thinking about their future career on our feedback surveys post workshops. The calendar of global workshops in 2021 is available here.

Athlete365 Career+ Power Up workshops are also organised through NOCs, IFs, ACs, CAs, NOAs and Olympic Movement organisations. The Olympic Solidarity Athlete Career Transition programme is available for NOCs in need of financial assistance to organise Athlete365 Career+ Power Up workshops.

Innovative programmes with TOP Partners

The IOC and Airbnb partnership agreement was signed in November 2019. As part of this partnership, the Olympian and Paralympian Experiences initiative launched to empower Olympians and Paralympians to share their passion in their own schedule, all whilst providing a revenue-generating opportunity. This programme was developed based on direct feedback collected from the athletes through a survey and focus groups at the 2019 Forum. Since the programme’s inception, over 250 athletes have hosted experiences globally. To find out more and to register your interest, visit Athlete365.

Alongside this programme, in April 2021, Airbnb announced the Airbnb Athlete Travel Grant (ATG), which will award 500 athletes across Olympic and Paralympic sports a USD 2,000 Airbnb Travel credit to use towards their training and competition needs.

The ATG will be awarded yearly for the next eight years. Furthermore, Airbnb will also be awarding all athletes participating in the future Olympic and Paralympic Games a USD 500 Airbnb Travel Credit each. More information regarding the USD 500 award will be available on Athlete365 in the coming months.

Through the partnership with Intel, two key programmes have been offered to help athletes with career transition. The first one is exclusive career mentoring by Intel staff and the second one is learning and development services through the LinkedIn learning platform.

5. To strengthen the protection of clean athletes and the fight against doping

Participants at the 2019 Forum called on the IOC, WADA and Olympic Movement stakeholders to ensure a level playing field in terms of international testing and to improve education, prevention measures and research – as well as to strongly sanction athletes and entourage members in the most effective ways.

Since then, the IOC Executive Board has approved a budget of up to USD 5 million, spread over 10 years, to be allocated to a comprehensive long-term storage programme managed by the International Testing Agency (ITA). The programme will see the storage of up to 10 years of samples collected by IFs and National Anti-Doping Organisations ahead of Tokyo 2020. Potentially as many as 22,000 samples could be kept as part of this programme.

6. To focus on athletes’ mental health

Mental Health Toolkit

Mental health has been a key focus for Athlete365 since the Forum. In addition to the dedicated well-being content, World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2019 was marked with an expert-led video, supportive advice articles and a bespoke social media campaign. An IOC Mental Health Working Group has been set up to bring together research on the subject and IOC AC member Abhinav Bindra is serving as your athlete representative on this Working Group. As a result of this work, the IOC Toolkit was launched in May 2021.
“Expert-led video that acted as the centrepiece for the Athlete365 World Mental Health Day campaign”

Providing support together with TOP Partners

Leveraging from the IOC and Intel partnership, two initiatives were implemented to provide direct support to athletes in the area of mental health. The first one was a free six-month licence for the Headspace application, which is a well-known meditation programme supporting athletes in dealing with stress and anxiety. Some 1,500 athletes benefited from this free offer. The second one is giving athletes free access to the LinkedIn Learning library for one year, which includes bespoke courses and learning paths, such as managing stress and staying positive. Over 1,700 athletes have activated the annual LinkedIn Learning subscription.

7. Support for the Athletes’ Declaration

Athlete representatives are continuously working with their respective organisations to support the implementation of the Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration. The number of sports organisations that are adopting or endorsing the Declaration is increasing all the time, and includes ANOC and ASOIF as well as the IFs, such as World Archery, IBSF, WKF, FIL, World Rowing, FIS and IFSC.

The 19-person Steering Committee made up of athlete representatives from various organisations has since produced:

  • Athlete agreement guidelines to support organisations in producing such documents;
  • Providing athletes with online learning regarding athletes’ agreements
  • Educating and informing Olympic Movement stakeholders about the Athletes’ Declaration;

Developing best practice examples to add to an online library of resources already available on Athlete365.

8. To invite athletes to be ambassadors for the Olympic Movement

The Athletes Role Model (ARM) programme continues to be a success by engaging with athletes and the general public. The Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 saw 26 athletes chosen to be ARMs by their respective IFs, featuring many legendary names from the world of sport, including Olympic and world champions.

The ARMs engaged and shared their experiences with the young athletes in the Youth Olympic Village, at training and competition venues, and during a series of educational activities and workshops. These activities focused on a range of areas, including Olympic Solidarity, skills development, career management, injury prevention and integrity.

A large number of Olympians and athletes have been engaged in various programmes, including the opening of Olympic House in June 2019, where more than 40 Olympic medallists were invited to Lausanne for the ceremony. During this event, these iconic athletes engaged in different activities with some of the local sports clubs in the Lausanne area to inspire the youth.

Additionally, many athletes have participated in the #StayStrong #StayHealthy campaign, which aims to leverage the power of sport to inspire local communities in the difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

9. To foster engagement and communication among the AC network

Athletes’ Commission network

The Athlete365 Community App was launched directly after the Forum, providing a dedicated space for athlete representatives to share ideas, knowledge and resources, and now has more than 1,000 athlete representatives registered on the app. Tools such as the Athlete365 Community App, calls with athlete representatives worldwide and surveys sent to athletes’ commissions have helped gather and shape the athletes’ viewpoint on a range of topics over the last two years, and we are very grateful for the network’s level of engagement.

Athlete feedback captured through all of these mechanisms has facilitated the IOC AC to accurately and confidently express the athletes’ voice during the making of key decisions affecting athletes, with the most recent example being the impact that coronavirus was having on athletes in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020. Conference calls and consultations were held with athletes to discuss the most important topics, including the preparations of the Olympic Games, Rule 40Rule 50 and  inclusion and non-discrimination based on gender identity. The global network of athlete representatives has never been stronger and better connected.

Continental Athletes’ Forums

Continental Athletes’ Forums, funded by Olympic Solidarity, have also significantly helped bring athlete representatives together on a regional level. The last in-person forum to take place was organised by the European Olympic Committees, which held their athletes’ forum in December 2019, with specific focus given to empowerment, communication and discussion on how more could be done to help the athletes in their own respective countries. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, continental athletes’ forums did not take place in 2020 or 2021, although ANOCA did hold a virtual athletes’ forum in October 2020 which brought together athlete representatives from across Africa.

The 10th International Athletes’ Forum will take place virtually in 2021