IOC reinforces engagement and support for the athlete community

Serving athletes has been the focus of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since its founding well over a century ago. It is constantly seeking new ways to fulfil that mission for today’s athletes.

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As the primary link between athletes throughout the Olympic Movement and the IOC, the IOC Athletes’ Commission plays a leading role in ensuring that the athletes’ viewpoint is considered in all aspects of the IOC’s work. The Commission is supported by the IOC Athletes’ Department. The result is a holistic approach to empowering and supporting athletes and Olympians that involves multiple IOC departments.

Polish mixed relay team Tokyo 2020 © 2021 Getty Images

“There are many different IOC departments that work every day to support athletes,” said Athletes’ Department Director Kaveh Mehrabi, an Olympian in badminton at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008. He listed in particular the IOC Olympic Games, Sports, NOC Relations, Olympic Solidarity, Medical and Scientific, Television and Marketing Services, and Digital Engagement and Marketing departments as close partners in the work of the Athletes’ Commission and the Athletes’ Department.

The Athletes’ Department, which includes six Olympians, serves the Athletes’ Commission’s work in five priority areas:

  • Supporting the successful delivery of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and the upcoming Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022;
  • Working on programmes to support athletes’ and Olympians’ physical and mental well-being and career transitions, as well as maximising the impact and reach of the IOC’s existing athlete-focused efforts;
  • Serving the global network of athlete representatives throughout the Olympic Movement;
  • Supporting International Federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) in their efforts to support their athletes; and
  • Supporting the implementation of athlete-focused recommendations from Olympic Agenda 2020+5.
Brazilian volleyball team celebrate at Tokyo 2020 © 2021 Getty Images

To ensure that it reflects the views of athletes from around the world, the IOC Athletes’ Commission holds regularly scheduled conference calls with athlete representatives from NOCs and IFs. It also collects feedback from the athlete community through surveys, one-on-one conversations and the Athlete365 contact list of more than 115,000 athletes and entourage members.

Mehrabi welcomes the recent willingness of athletes to speak publicly about the mental stresses of competing at the highest level, a trend that the IOC and the Athletes’ Commission has encouraged. IOC Athletes’ Commission member Abhinav Bindra, an Olympic gold medallist in shooting, has championed the cause by talking about his own challenges and through his work as the Commission’s representative in the IOC Mental Health Working Group.

Team France Volleyball celebrate after Victory at Tokyo 2020 © 2021 Getty Images

“Having athletes like Abhinav, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka speaking out about the importance of mental health and helping to remove the stigma has been a big step forward,” Mehrabi said. “While their sporting experience helps athletes become incredibly strong individuals and a source of inspiration for others, they are not immune to the challenges that everyone in society faces.”

The IOC and the IOC Athletes’ Commission are also strongly focused on helping athletes transition to life after sport.

“You can’t start thinking about it three months before you retire or after you retire. You have to start preparing years in advance. The IOC has significantly increased focus and attention on this important topic,” Mehrabi said.

2021 Getty Images © 2021 Getty Images

Through the IOC Career+ Programme, the IOC and the IOC Athletes’ Commission prepare athletes to think ahead and pursue dual careers in sport, business or education. The Athletes’ Department supports this effort by working with a number of IOC TOP Partners to provide revenue-generating opportunities, mentorship programmes and other career-building assistance.

The IOC also leads by example by hiring Olympians and former athletes – a practice that highlights the unique expertise and values that they can bring to NOCs, IFs and other sports organisations.

“Serving athletes is truly a team effort at the IOC,” Mehrabi said. “It’s an honour to be part of this larger effort. It excites me to have the opportunity and hopefully contribute a little bit, in my own way, to this bigger picture.”

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