Where we are coming from
“Where will destinies lie 100 years from now in 2018? Armed as we are with the indefinite applications of growing knowledge, human evolution has become strangely swift, and never before has it been more imprudent and pointless even to make long-range forecasts. One thing that is certain, however, is that a weighty responsibility rests upon us. [...] The legacy that exists in 2018 will depend mostly on what the people of 1918, with whom the values of our times are held in trust, decide. Let us make sure that our children have no reason to hold us painfully to account, and that they receive a legacy of wisdom, energy and honour, enriched still further by our virtues, our constancy, our loyalty and our self-sacrifice.”
These words by Pierre de Coubertin ring as true today as they did 100 years ago, when he wrote them. What better time to reflect on his words than now, as we stand at the threshold of 2019. Looking back on the events that have shaped the Olympic year 2018, we can hear the echoes of Coubertin’s times and we see that, in so many ways, they are still relevant in our day and age.
The year began with the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, which were a success story in so many respects. From the sporting achievements and the athletes’ experience to the excellent organisation and the financial success, these Games have opened up new horizons in more ways than anyone could have imagined only a few months ago.
The best expression of this was the joint march of the athletes of the NOCs of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Opening Ceremony. They entered the Olympic Stadium as one team, united behind one flag, the Korean unification flag.
This moment, of course, did not happen by chance. It was the result of a long process of negotiations and high-level government engagement by the International Olympic Committee that began back in 2014 and lasted until four hours before the Opening Ceremony.
With these powerful symbols and gestures in PyeongChang, we have seen how the Olympic Games can open the way to dialogue, how the Olympic values can open the way to a more peaceful future.
The success of PyeongChang was never a foregone conclusion. Only a few months before the Games, the thought of both Korean teams marching peacefully at the Olympic Games together seemed impossible: we were facing missile launches and nuclear tests on the Korean peninsula. But throughout even the most difficult times of political tensions, the IOC always kept the door open for the participation of North Korean athletes in PyeongChang.
Both leaders of both countries thanked the IOC afterwards for having opened the door for their peace talks through these actions. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in September 2018, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea highlighted once again the important role the IOC had played in opening the door for the current rapprochement. He said: “The IOC deserves a lot of credit for surprising changes of late by helping North Korea participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.”
During my visit to North Korea in March 2018, the country’s leader Kim Jong-un said that the Olympic Winter Games had shifted the momentum in North-South Korean relations and that this was “totally attributable to the efforts of the IOC”. He also committed that athletes from his country would participate in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 and the next editions of the Youth Olympic Games.
Both leaders asked the IOC to continue to support the ongoing political peace talks on the Korean peninsula through sport. The IOC is committed to doing this.
In PyeongChang, we sanctioned the systematic manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia during the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. The IOC sanctioned those entities involved, proportional to their levels of responsibility. At the same time, we upheld the principle of individual justice to which every human being is entitled. This is why we created a pathway for clean, individual Russian athletes to compete in PyeongChang, but only under the strictest conditions. In this way, we did justice to all athletes, regardless of their passport. With its suspension from the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, the Russian Olympic Committee has served its sanction, while in other organisations procedures are still ongoing.
Another key event this past Olympic year was the Olympism in Action Forum, which took place in Buenos Aires just ahead of the Youth Olympic Games. Bringing together thought leaders from all walks of life to discuss emerging trends affecting the future of sport, the Olympism in Action Forum was an opportunity for the Olympic Movement to open its windows, let in fresh ideas and hear about new perspectives from a variety of voices. The Forum also benefited from the participation of many youth representatives and Young Change-Makers, who brought the views and voices of young people to the discussions. To allow for direct dialogue, critical voices were also invited to the Forum, engaging them in a frank exchange of views with representatives from the Olympic Movement. The Forum provided an overview of the vast number of activities and initiatives of the IOC and the Olympic Movement, ranging from gender equality and empowering women in and through sport to governance, sustainability and the future of the Olympic Games.
The Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 were truly the Youth Olympic Games of a new era. Starting with the Opening Ceremony in the heart of the city – attended by hundreds of thousands of people in the streets – to the full venues, it was innovation from start to finish, bringing sport to where the people are. These Youth Olympic Games were more urban, more female and more inclusive than ever before. The urban parks concept was a great success, as demonstrated by the fact that over 1 million spectators filled the venues across the city with an amazing atmosphere. In an important milestone for gender equality in Olympic sport, Buenos Aires saw the first-ever Olympic sports programme with complete gender equality, with the same number of girls and boys taking part in the same number of sports events. New sports and disciplines brought additional youth appeal to the programme. The Argentinian people have every reason to be proud of this wonderful celebration of youth, sport and culture that they united behind with such great passion and enthusiasm. With this great success, Buenos Aires has shown the way for the Youth Olympic Games 2022 in Dakar, Senegal – the first-ever Olympic competition organised in Africa.
Reflecting on the words of Pierre de Coubertin, we see many of the themes he mentioned echoed in the events that shaped the Olympic year 2018. In many ways, we see that his great heritage is still very much alive and of more relevance than ever in our fragile world today. As present-day custodians of his great Olympic heritage, it is now our responsibility to carry the Olympic values to the future. In this Olympic spirit and building on the momentum from this past Olympic year 2018, we can look ahead with confidence and optimism to 2019.
Where we are going to
The preparations for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are in full swing and progressing in an excellent way. With 18 months before the opening of the Games, I have never seen an Olympic city that is as prepared as Tokyo, and we have every confidence that the preparations will continue as smoothly in the final stretch.
Looking ahead to 2019, a highlight of the 125th anniversary of the IOC’s establishment by Pierre de Coubertin will be the much-anticipated opening of Olympic House, the new IOC headquarters. After a three-year renovation and reconstruction, the new building will bring together the IOC administration under one roof. Olympic House will become the new home for the entire Olympic Movement. Its design ensures that the building fits into its environmental and historic setting. The new headquarters is a bridge between the roots of the IOC in Lausanne and our vision for the future.
In 2019, we will have an important decision to select the host of the Olympic Winter Games 2026. The strong candidatures are embracing the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms, as demonstrated by the fact that they plan to use 80 per cent of existing or temporary venues and facilities. We have made it clear that, in 2026, we want to return to a traditional winter sports country, and I am sure that we will have an excellent host city for the Olympic Winter Games 2026.
This upcoming year will also be important to reinforce the message that, when it comes to good governance, what affects one of us in the Olympic Movement affects all of us. This means that rules of good governance and ethics have to apply to the entire Olympic Movement. Everyone has a responsibility to uphold the standards of good governance in everything we do, because at the end of the day, we are only as strong as the weakest link. The IOC has already implemented all good governance measures called for under Olympic Agenda 2020. We have reformed, and we have changed. But we know that even the best rules will not make us immune to misconduct. No organisation in the world can be immune in this respect. It is an unfortunate fact that some of the challenges we are facing today originate from the time before our reforms came into effect. However, with the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms in place, we are now able to handle wrongdoing in a better way than before the reforms. As recent events have shown, whenever such cases of wrongdoing arise, we take action and the necessary measures, because we know that it is in our own highest interest to protect the integrity of sport.
2019 will also be an important year to further strengthen the role of the International Testing Agency (ITA) to make testing and sanctioning independent from sports organisations and national interests. Much progress has been made already with 40 partners having joined the ITA, thereby avoiding even the perception of a conflict of interest and increasing the credibility of the anti-doping system of IFs and any major sports events organiser.
In our fragile world, which is full of uncertainty and confrontation, the IOC enjoys great stability against all the odds. The future of the Games is secured with the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and the Olympic Games Los Angeles 2028 in place. We already have interest from numerous cities and NOCs for the Olympic Winter Games 2030 and even for the Olympic Games 2032, 13 years in advance. In these volatile times, the Olympic Games are more important than ever to bring the entire world together in peaceful competition. Our Worldwide TOP Partners and Rights-Holding Broadcasters, after a rigorous and diligent analysis, are demonstrating their confidence and trust in the Olympic Games and the IOC through long-term agreements, some until 2032.
We also see this expression of confidence through the success of the Olympic Channel – making the magic of Olympic sport and the Olympic athletes available throughout the year to everybody around the globe. The Olympic Channel’s content resonates well, in particular with the young generation, as demonstrated by the 2 billion video views since it began operating two years ago. Attracting young people to the Olympic Games and the values of sport will continue with the increased localisation of Olympic Channel content in 2019.
Everything taken together – the growing relevance of the Olympic Games, the long-term financial security, and making Olympic sport attractive for young people – is what gives the entire Olympic Movement this great stability. In our fragile world, this stability is perhaps the strongest currency that you can have. Not many other organisations can claim to have this strong currency in our volatile times.
The athletes are at the heart of everything we do. With the adoption of the Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration, we have taken a historic step to strengthen the role of the athletes in our Olympic Movement. This Declaration also represents an emotional milestone for me personally. As a former member of the first IOC Athletes’ Commission, set up after the Baden-Baden Olympic Congress 1981, I was fighting for athletes’ representation and athletes’ rights. Ever since then, this topic has been close to my heart. Seeing this long process come to fruition is therefore of great personal satisfaction. The participation of more than 4,200 athletes in the preparation of the Declaration was a milestone with regard to the legitimacy of athlete representation because of its universality and diversity. Therefore, the IOC Athletes’ Commission and its Steering Committee, like nobody else, can truly speak on behalf of the athletes of the world.
2019 will be a crucial year to roll out and implement this Declaration. Also for this reason, the IOC will hold the biggest-ever Athletes’ Forum in April 2019. Many NOCs, Continental Associations and IFs are already supporting the Declaration, and I hope that many more will follow in 2019. I encourage all athletes to make their voices heard through their elected athlete representatives who will be present at this Athletes’ Forum. It will mark a major step deepening and strengthening athletes’ participation at the heart of the Olympic Movement.
For all these reasons, 2019 promises to be a year that will set the course for the future of the Olympic Movement in many different ways.
As Coubertin reminded us 100 years ago, we are only temporary trustees of his great heritage. Then as now, let us ensure that we continue to carry this responsibility with dignity so that we can pass on his Olympic legacy to the next generation “enriched still further by our virtues, our constancy, our loyalty and our self-sacrifice”. We have every reason to look to the future with confidence and optimism. In this Olympic spirit to constantly strive further, I wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.