How athletes are giving back to their communities with the support of the IOC

The second day of the Athlete Town Hall, hosted online by the IOC Athletes’ Commission for those who competed at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, highlighted the support available to athletes through the IOC to help them make an impact in and beyond sport. 

Athlete Town Hall IOC/Christophe Moratal

Olympic athletes not only inspire the world through their achievements at the Olympic Games and the resilience and effort they put into making an Olympic team; they are also role models through the uplifting work they do to give back to their communities.

An inspiring group of athletes were invited to share stories of how they are using their status as Olympians to deliver impactful work around the world. The panel included:

  • Seung-min Ryu (Republic of Korea), table tennis – Olympic champion and IOC Athletes’ Commission Vice-Chair
  • Pau Gasol Sáez (Spain), basketball – two-time Olympic medallist and IOC Athletes’ Commission member
  • Eliza McCartney (New Zealand), athletics – Olympic medallist in pole vault and environmental activist
  • Cynthia Appiah (Canada), bobsleigh – Olympian and P&G Athletes for Good recipient
  • Pita Taufatofua (Tonga), cross-country skiing/taekwondo – Olympian and IOC Believe in Sport Ambassador

Retired basketball star Pau Gasol is a UNICEF Ambassador who also has his own foundation, and was elected as a member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. He explained what provided the motivation to use his platform as an Olympian and NBA player to give back.

“What drove me is the realisation of the type of impact that I could have on the world, especially in vulnerable communities, and of what I could do with my success as an athlete,” Gasol said. “This success translated and transformed into a positive impact in the community.”

Sustainability and community champions

As well as being an Olympic medallist for New Zealand in pole vault, Eliza McCartney is an environmental activist driven to educate others on the importance of sustainability in everyday life. She explained to the Town Hall audience how she has been using her profile to collaborate with brands around environmental causes.

“I’ve worked hard to shift the brands and the organisations I’ve been working with over the years to those that are doing amazing things in the sustainability space,” McCartney said. “I’m very upfront about wanting to make a difference, and I’m very happy to work with those people. All of that together – you end up being a role model to your community and your country. It’s starting to grow and I’ve absolutely loved it. It’s made me feel like I’ve had a positive impact.”

Another athlete who has made a positive impact is three-time Olympian Pita Taufatofua, who joined the panel to discuss his inspirational awareness-raising and crowdfunding initiatives in his home country of Tonga, which was hit by a devastating tsunami in early 2022.

“I set up a fundraiser and did interview after interview,” he explained. “So far we have managed to send half a million kilograms of food, and we’ve replaced close to 10 per cent of all boats that the tsunami destroyed – which is an important mode of transport for children in my country to travel to school. We’re continuing that process, and being an Olympian has given me the courage to do this.”

How the IOC supports and empowers athletes

An earlier session had outlined the various strands of support that are available to athletes through the IOC. As the IOC is a non-profit organisation, 90 per cent of its revenues from the Olympic Games are redistributed for the development of athletes and sport at all levels around the world – the equivalent of USD 4.2 million every day. In the last Olympiad, the IOC contributed around USD 2.8 billion towards the staging of the Olympic Games, to ease the financial burden on the host cities, and distributed more than USD 755 million to support International Federations and National Olympic Committees.

In addition to this indirect support, athletes can directly access a range of advice, tools and services delivered by the IOC through Athlete365, and a panel of beneficiaries outlined how some of these programmes have helped them on and off the field of play.

One of those panellists was beach volleyball Olympian Lina Taylor, who has been sharing her passion for sport and earning money through the Airbnb Olympian & Paralympian Experiences platform, hosting an Experience called “Go for Gold”, which she now runs for corporate companies. Taylor delivered a 15-minute version of this Airbnb Experience to the Town Hall participants, each of whom also received a free USD 30 voucher to spend on an Airbnb Experience of their choosing.

Other programmes available to support athletes’ careers were also highlighted, including the Athlete365 Business Accelerator, which provides athletes with online courses and expert mentoring to help them take their first steps in the entrepreneurial world, and Athlete365 Career+, which offers workshops, assessment tools and job listings to help athletes prepare for their career transition.

“The Athlete365 Business Accelerator helped me open my mind,” said panellist Gabriela Traña, an Olympic marathon runner from Costa Rica. “It gave me the ideas to impact lives and reach more people through my training and consultation in nutrition. Talking with people from the Business Accelerator, you feel people supporting you all the time, and it’s a good opportunity for growth.”

Focus on mental health

The panel also addressed athlete mental health, with IOC Athletes’ Commission member Abhinav Bindra, who is the IOC Mental Health Working Group’s athlete representative, delivering an inspiring message to the Town Hall participants via video link.

“As much as we glorify athletes’ physical achievements and resilience, we must bear in mind the costs,” he explained. “Your mind is just as important as your body, and we have to keep the conversation going.”

Bindra also outlined the resources available to the Athlete365 community as part of the IOC’s #MentallyFit campaign, reinforcing that support is available to athletes from the IOC not only around the Olympic Games, but all year round. These include athlete testimonials and expert-led advice on themes such as sleep and anxiety, and the Mental Health in Elite Athletes Toolkit.

The panel discussions followed a successful first day of the Athlete Town Hall, which featured an exclusive Q&A with IOC President Thomas Bach.

First-ever Athlete Town Hall wraps up with strong sense of community

To close the first-ever Athlete Town Hall, IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Emma Terho reflected on a fruitful two days’ discussions, which provided the opportunity for the global athlete community to unite after Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022.

“It was a really great experience to come together with all our Olympians and Athletes’ Commission members,” she said. “[There were] many great moments and a feeling of community. We received a lot of feedback throughout the sessions, and this is exactly what we are looking for as a Commission.”

The IOC Athletes’ Commission will continue to hold regular conference calls with the global network of athlete representatives for the rest of 2022, before coming together again in 2023 for the 11th IOC International Athletes’ Forum.

For more information on the support available to athletes, go to Athlete365

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