Uncovered: the work and value of the IOC Athletes’ Commission

For the past four decades, the IOC Athletes’ Commission has worked tirelessly to increase support for athletes and ensure that their views are represented as part of the IOC decision-making process. But what exactly is the Commission, and how does it work?

3 min read|
Uncovered: the work and value of the IOC Athletes’ Commission
© IOC / Greg Martin

The Athletes’ Commission is a team of up to 23 Olympians, volunteers who have been the link and voice between athletes and IOC ever since the Commission was first established back in 1981. They work to ensure that athlete viewpoints are at the heart of all the decisions made by the Olympic Movement, which is one of the key objectives of Olympic Agenda 2020.

A majority of the Commission members are elected by their fellow athletes, and appointed members may be added to the Commission to provide additional expertise and ensure a good balance between regions, genders and sports.

One of the Commission’s main roles is to empower athlete participation through various projects, such as the historic Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration, which was adopted at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires in October 2018.

The Commission is also devoted to supporting athlete development on and off the field of play, working with the IOC on resources such as Athlete365, the one-stop digital platform for elite athletes 365 days a year, and Athlete365 Career +, which has so far helped more than 45,000 athletes make the transition to a new career post-sport, or combine athletic performance with work.

An exciting project on the horizon is the Athlete365 Business Accelerator, which will be launched at the International Athletes’ Forum this April. It aims to make use of the expertise of social business experts Grameen Creative Lab – founded by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus – to help athletes become entrepreneurs while they are still competing or post-retirement. The aim is to help with the sometimes difficult transition to a new career once an athlete’s sporting days are over.

In addition to promoting athlete involvement in decision-making and ensuring athlete representation, the IOC Athletes’ Commission is also constantly on hand to provide athletes with advice across a range of subjects.

As part of their mission to bring the viewpoints of athletes to the sport’s hierarchy, the IOC Athletes’ Commission regularly facilitates discussions with all the athlete commissions spanning the Olympic Movement. In recent years, the IOC has significantly increased funding through Olympic Solidarity to promote greater face-to-face interactions between athlete commissions worldwide, enabling the organisation of continental athletes’ forums in all five continents, in locations from Harare to Miami.

In addition, there has been a drive to increase the frequency of cross-commission conference calls, which provide the opportunity for athlete representatives to engage with and provide regular feedback to the IOC Athletes’ Commission and hear at first hand the latest updates on important topics.

The Commission also strives to find ways to advocate for the views of athletes who have traditionally been under-represented in global sports decision-making. As an example, Egypt’s Aya Medany, formerly one of the world’s leading modern pentathletes, was appointed to the IOC Athletes’ Commission in 2015. Medany is a passionate advocate for the right of female Muslim athletes to wear the hijab while competing, if they so wish, a subject which is especially close to her heart, as during her peak years in the sport she felt frustrated that no one was listening to her own feelings on the matter.

Medany, who will be participating at the 2019 International Athletes’ Forum, decided she wanted to join the IOC Athletes’ Commission so that she could help Arab and African athletes facing the same problems that she experienced while competing.

There is always more work to do. One of the key topics that will be discussed at the Forum will be how athlete commissions from different international federations can work together more effectively to ensure that athletes have a strong say in how their sport is run.