OP-ED from Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al-Sabah – President of the Association of National Olympic Committees
The role of the Association of National Olympic Committees [ANOC] is to protect and promote the rights of the world’s 204 NOCs. Never is that role more critical than during the preparation and delivery of the Olympic Games. Because if an NOC is well looked after, its athletes are well looked after. And it is the well looked after athletes who go faster, jump higher, are stronger when it matters.
NOCs hold the key to setting the stage for immortal moments
If the Olympic Games is supposed to be the ultimate stage for elite athletic performance, then Sochi 2014 was one of the most effectively executed Olympic Games in history. The Organising Committee did indeed provide the ultimate stage for NOCs and their teams, and in turn they provided the immortal moments of Olympic magic that only occur when every need is met.
We are all still enjoying that glow of post-Games euphoria, but the early feedback ANOC has received from our primary stakeholders – the NOCs – has been objectively and universally outstanding. The accommodations in the Olympic Village were modern, convivial and more spacious than at any other Games in history. The transport network was convenient and reliable, connecting compact clusters with minimal travel times. The training and competition venues were state-of-the-art.
Sochi 2014 took the most complex event on the planet, against a complex geopolitical backdrop, and made it purely and simply about one thing: sport. Russia’s first Winter Games was a testament to the vision, ambition and relentless commitment to excellence of the IOC, the Russian government, the Russian Olympic Committee and the OCOG; for that they deserve our respect and our gratitude.
Now, the task for ANOC is to work with the participating NOCs – a record 88 in Sochi – to identify, objectively, what worked; not to aggrandise, but to analyse. We must ensure that the things that worked in Sochi become part of the Winter Games blueprint, to be replicated again and again and again. Every Games must have its own distinctive character, but there are fundamental best practices that should be consistent to all.
Of course, the event was not flawless. And because we Olympic Movement administrators must strive for perfection, like the athletes we serve, we must identify where Sochi 2014’s concept and delivery can be improved upon. I envisage issues like pre-Games access to training venues and the sometimes heavy-handed doping control procedures featuring prominently in the feedback we collate from NOCs.
In the short term, the conclusions ANOC presents on behalf of the NOCs of the world at June’s official Sochi 2014 debrief should provide a yardstick for the PyeongChang 2018 Organising Committee and the 2022 Bid Cities. In the long term, this is – I believe – a critical process in the evolution of the Olympic Movement, one geared specifically towards ensuring the enduring quality and relevance of the Olympic Games product.
Of course, as we saw during Thomas Bach’s bold first IOC Session as President, the Olympic Games is just one element on this sweeping programme of reform and modernisation; nothing is off the table. The NOCs of the world, represented on the global stage by ANOC, are fully behind Agenda 2020. Together, we are already taking our own steps towards reform and modernisation that will reinforce President Bach’s objectives.
At the end of March, ANOC’s nine new Commissions and Working Groups will convene for the first time, ahead of our Executive Council meetings in Kuwait. These specialised taskforces will bring together recognised experts in fields ranging from marketing, to sports medicine, to youth engagement. They will stimulate action on the most pressing issues facing NOCs today, and they will deliver tangible results. ANOC will also be sending the 204 NOCs a questionnaire similar to the one presented at the IOC Session. We expect many NOCs to give their own proposals for Agenda 2020, which ANOC will distil into an official document to be handed over to the IOC.
At the IOC Session in Sochi, President Bach was able to elicit interventions from the majority of the membership. I hope that we can recreate that spirit of collaboration and creativity during our meetings in Kuwait. ANOC has a pivotal contribution to make to the long-term health and sustainability of the Olympic Movement, under the leadership of the IOC. The Sochi 2014 debriefing process and the work of the nine Commissions and Working Groups is a fantastic opportunity to harness the collective wisdom, insight and vision of the world’s NOCs. We experienced excellence at Sochi 2014; we must never accept anything less.