Valuable benefits on IOC’s agenda
6 December 2014
The following article was written by Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman for The Australian, and re-published here with their permission.
Sport is a central part of our culture and way of life — and our national identity. As my friend Seb Coe, the British Olympian and London 2012 chairman, playfully reminds us in his foreword to Harry Gordon’s history of Australia at the Olympic Games, From Athens With Pride, we are rarely happier than when winning a regular supply of medals at the Olympics, preferably at the expense of Team GB.
I did not perhaps understand the full impact of sport in Australia and beyond until I crossed the finishing line at the Sydney 2000 Games at Stadium Australia. For me it was a dream come true; a dream that I had carried with me since I was a little girl.
That 400m race changed my life, and the years since have helped me to better comprehend how sport can be such a powerful force for positive change in wider society as well as in individuals — on and off the sporting field.
The thing that moved me most at Sydney 2000, when I saw the joy on everyone’s face, was the feeling that sport is an area where we can all come together and put our differences aside.
Sport has been the reason behind so many times of celebration and euphoria we have enjoyed and shared as a nation, united in triumph, as well as times of introspection and doubt in defeat.
The fortunes of our sporting heroes and teams, especially at international venues and competitions, provide a reliable reading of the national mood.
Remember Australia II’s dramatic America’s Cup victory in the waters off Newport, Rhode Island in 1983, when prime minister Bob Hawke issued a national plea for bosses across the country not be too hard on staff if they staggered into work a little late — or not at all — on the day of the victory; or conversely when the recent sudden death of one of our most promising and beloved young cricketers, Phillip Hughes — whose talent, achievements and approach to sport and life had won national and international acclaim and admiration — plunged us into a period of shock, grief and disbelief.
Sport means a lot to us on various levels and we host many major events and participate in numerous competitions each year, but Australia seems to have a special relationship with the Olympic Games, the world’s biggest and most important sporting event.
We are one of a very small number of countries to have attended every edition of the summer, winter and youth Olympics and have hosted the summer Games on two historic occasions, in Melbourne in 1956 and Sydney in 2000.
Sport, however, in these current times of uncertainty, faces increasing competition from rival activities and sectors of society, and it’s fair to say that some aspects of sport — both domestic and global — are under the microscope right now.
Next week in Monte Carlo, the International Olympic Committee, which has led the globalisation, organisation and development of sport for more than 100 years, will vote on a package of reforms designed to address key challenges in this modern era of global sport. The IOC members will vote on Monday and Tuesday on reforms designed to protect the credibility, sustainability and future of sport for athletes and young people, and for host cities and their communities, implementing one of the most far-reaching reform agendas in the history of the modern Olympic movement.
The reforms will be relevant to the future of many young Australians who dream of representing their country at the highest level at the Olympic Games.
I am proud that the Australian Olympic movement, through the work of John Coates, a vice-president of the IOC, and other sections and members of our Olympic community, have been involved in supporting IOC president Thomas Bach to drive this roadmap of reform.
Naturally, I am very pleased the reforms highlight and will help to curb the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs and medical technologies, match-fixing and other forms of illicit activity, and protect clean athletes. This is vital for the credibility of every sport, everywhere. The reforms will also be good news for Australian cities and cities around the world hoping to host the Olympic Games in the future by making it easier and more affordable to do so.
The reforms highlight important legacies for host cities, including sustainable social, economic, environmental and sporting benefits linked to infrastructure projects involved in staging the Olympic Games — as we saw in the birth of the new suburb of Newington around the Sydney Olympic Park, which created a new urban future and facilities for thousands of residents.
I was particularly pleased that the reforms will move the Olympic Games from a sport-based to an event-based program, providing the opportunity for future host cities to include new activities at the Games. This is vital to keeping sport relevant to young people, and gives hope for non-Olympic sports and athletes of a possible place in the Olympic program.
Running for me was like breathing; I was born to run and I always had people around me who believed in me and in my talent and what I could do. I had such a determined support system that all I had to do was focus on running. But many gifted young people are not so lucky and need to be identified and their talent and potential nurtured. The reforms, supported by IOC Olympic sports development funding, will help young people from all cultures and backgrounds.
My association with the Olympic movement has given me the opportunity to raise awareness of important health issues, such as diabetes, and I was honoured recently to accompany Mr Coates when he announced a change to the Australian Olympic Committee constitution to recognise the heritage, culture and contribution of our nation’s first people, my people, the indigenous people of Australia, and to give practical support to indigenous reconciliation through sport.
I am hopeful this could inspire further sports-related unifying measures here and in other countries. As John says, there is no better way to bring people together than through sport.
This initiative is also a great example of how the IOC under Mr Bach can use sport to bring about wider change in society, in line with the Olympic movement’s growing collaboration with the United Nations.
I believe the reforms will help keep the Olympic dream alive for future generations of Australians and reinforce the relevance of sport in Australia and around the world. I am truly delighted and proud to support the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020.'
Cathy Freeman, triple Olympian and two-time medallist,writing for The Australian.