IOC President Thomas Bach joins brand-new Athlete Town Hall event

Athletes from around the world are currently gathering online for the Athlete Town Hall – a first-of-its-kind event organised by the IOC Athletes’ Commission for Olympians who competed at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. The first day saw participants discuss their experiences and celebrate their achievements at those Games, and put their questions to IOC President Thomas Bach in an exclusive Q&A session. 

IOC / Christophe Moratal

“Athlete365 is a community of over 130,000 athletes and entourage members,” explained IOC Athletes’ Commission (AC) Chair Emma Terho as she opened the Town Hall. “There are over 30,000 Olympians as members of Athlete365, and through our website and social media we have a huge variety of resources, offers and support for you, the athletes, to help you succeed on and off the field of play.”

Exclusive Q&A with IOC President Thomas Bach

The two-day event is being moderated by British Olympian Jeanette Kwakye. The highlight of day one was an exclusive Q&A with the IOC President, who fielded questions on a range of topics. As an Olympic champion in fencing and founding member of the IOC AC, President Bach has an in-depth understanding of athletes’ needs, and was able to provide some updates from the Olympic Movement from the past few months. Athletes from around the world were given the opportunity to ask questions directly through the livestream.

“I’m extremely relieved that we could make [Tokyo 2020] happen with all our partners, and I’m still very touched by the many comments of so many athletes, be it from Tokyo or Beijing, who came to us and acknowledged this,” said President Bach after being asked about the challenges that were overcome to successfully deliver Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022. He was then asked to address the future of the Olympic Games, starting with Paris 2024.

“These Games will be more sustainable,” President Bach replied. “We already hope that they can be climate-positive. They will build on a legacy in Paris, where about 95 per cent of the venues already exist. The Games will be more inclusive – or better to say, more open. They will be the first gender-equal Olympic Games in history.

“Paris 2024 will give us an indication for the future of the Olympic Games, and this is why we’re saying that these Games will begin a new era.”

IOC / Christophe Moratal

Celebrating the Olympic Games

Day one also provided the chance to celebrate the achievements of the athletes who competed at Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022, and gather feedback about the athlete experience there. Taking place during a global pandemic, these two editions of the Games highlighted the strength of the athlete community as they overcame unprecedented challenges to qualify for and compete at the Games.

In a panel discussion centred on the athlete experience, Brazil’s eight-time Olympian Jaqueline Mourão, who competed in the women’s mountain bike at Tokyo 2020, and in cross-country skiing at Beijing 2022, and Italy’s Olympic gold medal-winning short track speed skater, Arianna Fontana, praised both the organisers and the athletes for adapting to the unique circumstances and delivering spectacular Games.

“With the pandemic and no access to the gym, sometimes quarantining, Tokyo 2020 was a big, big challenge. The gratitude to be able to be there and racing, everybody felt that,” Mourão said.

“It was a big journey, a long journey, a process, a lot of ups and downs. But that’s why I love the Olympic Games,” Fontana added. "It’s not just the result, but the journey and the story behind every athlete. That’s what the Olympic Games mean.”

Olympic Solidarity support

Costa Rican surfer Leilani McGonagle and Trinidadian sprinter Richard Thompson completed the panel line-up, and both spoke about how Olympic Solidarity had helped them achieve their Olympic dreams. In total, for Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022, Olympic Solidarity distributed USD 64.5 million in athlete scholarships, to 1,836 athletes from 186 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) for Tokyo 2020, and 429 athletes from 80 NOCs for Beijing 2022. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of Tokyo 2020, Olympic Solidarity extended the funding to these athletes by an additional year.

“I believe that what the IOC has been doing over the years to ensure that each nation has a fair chance, it’s extremely important,” said Thompson, who, along with the other members of the Trinidad and Tobago men’s 4x100m team from Beijing 2008, was recently presented with a gold medal at a Medal Reallocation Ceremony held at The Olympic Museum.

“Because we know that, when it comes to the Olympic Games, and we consider the spirit of Olympism, it’s about fairness and integrity. It’s about solidarity and inclusiveness. It’s great to see programmes like these are in place to ensure athletes have an opportunity to compete optimally,” Thompson added.

“Having [Olympic Solidarity] to back us during that cycle was crucial,” agreed McGonagle, who competed in the women’s surfing competition at Tokyo 2020 as the sport made its Olympic debut. “It was important to know that someone was supporting us and believing in us.”

New Games-time initiatives

The Town Hall participants also reflected on the new offers and services made available by the IOC for Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 to improve their Games-time experience. For example, Athlete365 Connect allowed athletes to instantly receive their competition photos on their device, ready to share on social media and boost their brand, while the Athlete Moment gave them the opportunity to connect with loved ones via a video link immediately after their competitions.

“It meant everything to me to see my family after my race, because they’ve always been with me to all my Olympic Games,” said short track speed skater Fontana, who connected with her family and hometown sports club after winning gold in the women’s 500m event. “I was really sad that they weren’t able to be in Beijing. So having that moment where I got to see them made everything even more special.”

Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 Olympians and Paralympians were also offered 24/7 access to a Mental Health Helpline, during the Games and for up to three months after, through which they could benefit from counselling sessions. And thanks to the Worldwide Olympic Partners, all athletes received a limited-edition mobile phone from Samsung and a travel grant worth USD 500 from Airbnb to use on unwinding after the Games or going after their next goal.

“The Airbnb grant was really nice after the Olympics to relax and take advantage of the decompression,” said Eritrea’s Alpine skiing Olympian, Shannon Abeda, who dialled into the Athlete Town Hall remotely to address the participants.

Athlete365

About the Athlete Town Hall

With the International Athletes’ Forum being held in a virtual format in 2021, the IOC Athletes’ Commission wanted to build on the success of this event in 2022. The Athlete Town Hall is a brand-new opportunity for athletes to connect with each other digitally, to find out about the dedicated resources and programmes available through Athlete365 to support them on and off the field of play, and to find new inspiration from other athletes about how they can use their status as Olympians to give back to their community.

For more information about the Athlete Town Hall and the support available to athletes through the IOC, go to Athlete365.

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