IOC member Pal Schmitt took office as president of Hungary last August. (ATR)
(ATR) Longtime IOC member Pal Schmitt tells Around the Rings
the environmental responsibility now required of Olympic organizers is setting an example for others to follow.
Elected to the IOC in 1983, he was instrumental in the creation of its Sport and Environment Commission and has chaired the 26-member body since its inception in 1995.
Also an NOC president since 1989, Schmitt only added to his duties last year when he was elected president of Hungary.
Despite the busy schedule, he found time to speak with ATR
last month during the 9th World Conference on Sport and Environment in Doha and will travel next week to the IOC Session in Durban, where he’ll vote for hosting rights to the 2018 Winter Olympics. “I already made my decision,” he says.
Read on for more of Schmitt’s thoughts about the history of his commission, its impact upon the Games and whether his presidential responsibilities are compromising his duties as an IOC member and NOC chief.
Around the Rings:
What has changed with Sport and Environment since 1994 when you took over this responsibility?
There were some very important dates in the history of the Olympic Movement.
One was not in the Movement but was the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Soon after, all the 164 NOCs who were present at the Olympic Games in Barcelona signed the Earth Pledge that we would do our utmost so that the earth remains livable for the next generation. That was the very first step.
The second was the first greening of the Olympic Games in Lillehammer. Norwegian people put enormous emphasis on protecting the surrounding nature, and that was the first Olympic Games organized in a responsible manner.
This was before the IOC even had real requirements about this?
Then came the Congress of Unity in Paris in 1994. We devoted a whole session on environment – actually, that was already my initiative because at that time I went to President Samaranch and suggested we create two committees that, in my modest view, were missing in the IOC structure. One was the commission of science because we had only the medical commission, and the second was environment.
Then he said “OK, we will create these two commissions. Which do you want to be the president of?”
I said “I don’t understand any of them, so perhaps environment is closer to my personality.”
Then he decided first to create the IOC Sport and Environment Commission and second to appoint me as chair.
That was 16 years ago, so in 1995.
The 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer were the first Games organized in a responsible manner, according to Schmitt. (Getty Images)
Since then, we meet our agenda. We’ve organized nine world conferences every second year in different corners of the world. Then we started realizing that the world is not united in environmental protection.
Environmental protection in Norway has a different meaning in Zambia and in the Arab world and in Oceania. Therefore, we started to organize seminars. Around 23 or 24 seminars have been organized in different countries bringing together all those who are facing the same problems.
Then we issued Agenda 21, which was a compulsory exercise because everybody who wanted to join the common effort had to [comply]. We were among the very first international organizations to establish our agenda, and of course we had to start raising awareness, educating young people and then focusing on the Olympic Games. We established criteria: bidding criteria and organizing criteria.
Since Nagano, the Winter and Summer Games have been organized in a responsible manner under IOC guidance.
In the very first phase of the bidding process, there were questions: How is the environment protected? What do you do for green Games? What will be the legacy of the Games? So since then, I can say that there is the Olympic Games are organized in a responsible manner.
One more: since about 10 years ago, I’m very grateful that not only the national Olympic committees but also the international federations follow the good example, and they make their world championships, world cups and other competitions in a green manner. I could enumerate riding events, triathlon, football, swimming, tennis, golf…
Pal Schmitt won Olympic fencing gold in team epee at the 1968 and 1972 Games.
What about fencing?
Fencing also has guidelines because if you are indoors, you use a lot of air-conditioning, lighting and cleaning products. Fencing is not a dangerous sport for the environment. It doesn’t have too much of an effect, but all the indoor sports have an effect.
This is not optional anymore. This is something that federations must do. This is something that organizing committees must do. It’s a requirement now, isn’t it, to be accepted and to be in good practice?
You know, the world itself has changed a lot.
Now this is not only recommended but also compulsory to take care to reduce, to reuse, to recycle and to focus on energy consumption or waste management or the water or the soil or the noise. So we are surrounded by different kinds of man-made dangers for nature. The sport is not the worst one, of course, but we set examples to follow with the Olympic Games.
In this, I think we have made progress. Now more than 100 NOCs have their own Sport and Environment commissions and more and more international federations as well. So the whole Olympic Movement now has a significant contribution to the society.
What about athletes? Are they an important part of this to drive interest and concern about the environment?
Athletes are extremely important because they are role models to follow. Therefore, I think athletes must first of all be aware of their responsibility to behave in an environmentally friendly manner and to set good examples all the time.
I am now a politician, but I was not always. I realize that a famous athlete has more public attention than any of the politicians. If they ask young people please do not smoke, please care about your surroundings, please don’t throw your garbage away, please switch off the light when you go out, whatever, they are much more appreciated than any of the politicians. Athletes are extremely important. They are our ambassadors for this cause.
About 500 delegates from 80 countries came to Doha last month for the ninth edition of the IOC World Conference on Sport and the Environment. (ATR)
What would you like to change or make better for the next conference?
The site is not decided yet, but it will be in 2013.
Perhaps I would use more of the internet for disseminating the message to involve the young generation. If you go to the IOC website, you have to take about five minutes until you get the first message about the environment and sport, so we are a very modest part, but the world doesn’t give pardon.
The world expects us to make a real contribution once we made the Earth Pledge, once we are the leading sporting body, once we have in our hand the largest-scale human-organized event in the history of mankind. We have the responsibility, and I would ask those working in the IOC to put more emphasis on what we do.
In the case of Sochi in particular, there are some critics of what’s going on with the development there. I haven’t heard any real critics or people who are raising questions about Olympic development at this conference. Are they invited? Is there room for people who have serious questions about the sustainability and the projects that are being done to build for the Olympics?
I understand that Sochi is in a very sensitive corner of the world. It is a protected area. It belongs to the natural heritage of the world in the Caucasus area, so they have to double efforts to ensure they don’t hurt the beauty and the bounty and the nature over there.
Organizers tout Sochi 2014 as the first truly green Winter Games, but some environmental activists say otherwise. (ATR)
But they promised. In the Evaluation Commission, we have an environmentalist, and so far I haven’t heard negative reports. I sincerely hope the Sochi Olympics are like the other two we organized in a very friendly manner toward the environment.
One final question: you’re now president of Hungary. It takes up a lot of your time. How is this going to affect your work as an IOC member?
Yes, it’s an honor. For me, I am the only Olympic champion who is a head of state now. I take it with dignity, and it’s a great pride for all the Olympians that I can represent them in the highest possible level.
What I agreed with Jacques Rogge is that I would quit being the IOC’s chief of protocol because it doesn’t fit now.
I asked him to let me continue work on this commission because it is very near to my heart. I see the fruits, I see the results, I see the problems, and I’ve known all the people for 16 years. This is the ninth world conference of familiar faces, and I can give a good effort to the Olympic Movement, so I go on.
Interview conducted by Ed Hula.
For general comments or questions, click here.
Your best source of news about the Olympics is www.aroundtherings.com, for subscribers only.