By Nick Butler

Nick ButlerBarbara Kendall turns and swivels around on her chair during our interview in Bangkok following an Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) Athletes' Commission meeting.

"We've sent a questionnaire to every National Olympic Committee about the issues facing athletes today, but less than half have replied," she outlines, pausing for dramatic effect.

"But in Oceania, every single one has."

This statement is followed by a slight punch of the air and what can only be described as a celebratory whoop - which lasts for at least 10 seconds, leaving me slightly lost for words and, for some reason, reminding myself I am talking to someone from the country that brought the world the haka.

And to my impressed surprise, she then performs an only slightly restrained version of the same celebration when presenting at the ANOC General Assembly two days later.

The New Zealander is clearly not your run-of-the-mill International Olympic Committee (IOC) member.

In a world still populated by men of a certain age, background and persuasion, she is a breath of fresh air, someone who is honest, clearly passionate and, to borrow an old expression, "not afraid to call a spade a spade".

With virtually every sentence it is clear I am talking to someone with sport in her blood, who, first and foremost, is interested in athletes participating and competing. Not politics or business or medicine or finance or law. Simply sport. That is not always the case with Olympic officials.

Arguably, neither her interest nor passion is surprising considering she is a former windsurfer, and thus the only IOC member to be able to justifiably claim to come from an "extreme sports" background.

As a youngster she followed her brother, Bruce, into the sport, with Kendall senior winning gold at Seoul 1988 after bronze in Los Angeles four years earlier. At the age of 25, little sis ensured the pair became the first gold medal winning siblings from New Zealand, with an exquisite victory at Barcelona 1992, before taking silver four years later in Atlanta and bronze four years after that in Sydney.

By the time she stepped off her board for the last time in a competitive sense in 2010, she had competed at two more Olympic Games, placing fifth at Athens 2004 and sixth at Beijing 2008, to become the first New Zealander to compete at five Summer Olympics, She also won World Championships titles in 1998, 1999 and 2002, along with four consecutive silver medals between 2003 and 2008.

Barbara Kendall competing at her fourth of five Olympic Games at Athens 2004 ©AFP/Getty ImagesBarbara Kendall competing at her fourth of five Olympic Games at Athens 2004
©AFP/Getty Images

By then Kendall was already a fully-fledged sports administrator, appointed to the New Zealand Olympic Committee's Athletes' Commission in 1996 before becoming an Oceanic IOC member and part of the IOC Athletes' Commission in 2005 following the resignation of Australian swimmer Susie O'Neill. Between 2008 and 2011 she continued to serve on the Commission without being an IOC member but then, unusually, re-entered sports' most prestigious club, with her Commission term and membership now set to expire in 2016.

"It took me a while to see how everything works, coming straight from the field of play to the field of administration," the 47-year-old tells insidethegames with typical honesty.

"Having no idea about this huge machine that happens in the Olympic Movement. Acronyms for example were like a whole foreign language. I was sat there, going "what the..." At ASOIF and ARISF and other things like that..."

"It was a nightmare and that took ages. Building up relationship took a long time as well. Understanding cultures also, and I'm still not very good at it."

On the ANOC Athletes' Commission, which she chairs in addition to her responsibilities on the corresponding IOC body, political nous and cultural understanding is certainly a must as they are fighting a view, prevalent in parts of the world, that an athlete voice is not required.

In terms of Athletes' Commissions, Oceania is at one of end of the spectrum, with its 100 per cent record, while Africa, where the lowest percentage of NOCs have functioning athlete representatives, is at the other.

"Some haven't bothered to form Commissions, others find it too hard, others don't know how, others have cultural reasons for not forming one," reflects Kendall, bluntly admitting that they have not yet been able to make much progress in the eight months since the group met for the first time in Kuwait. "What we're trying to do is to make the excuses less and less. We've got budgets, reasons, statistics and the proof."

So what is the benefit of having a functional Athletes' Commission, I ask?

"Happy athletes perform better," replies Kendall in a sing-song voice to recite a line she is clearly quite proud of. "How else will you educate your athletes if you don't have a voice? You've got to be connected to the things facing modern athletes today. That's what Athletes' Commissions are for, to hear those issues and pass them through to the Executive Board."

Vanuatu beach volleyball pairing Linline Matauatu (left) and Joyce Joshua have been one successful Oceanic sports team in 2014...boosted by the strong voice of athletes on the continent ©Getty ImagesVanuatu beach volleyball pairing Linline Matauatu (left) and Joyce Joshua have been one successful Oceanic sports team in 2014...boosted by the strong voice of athletes on the continent ©Getty Images

As well as Kendall, the body contains representatives from all five continental associations: former volleyball player Yuko Arakida of Japan, sprinter Amadou Dia Ba of Senegal, rhythmic gymnast Alexandra Orlando of Canada and table tennis player, Jean-Michel Saive of Belgium.

In Bangkok, the group duly finalised a "tool kit" outlining how to set up a Commission - including agendas, budgets and questionnaire templates - with the full document to be posted online on the ANOC website.

Helping athletes communicate and overcome linguistic barriers is one other major focus, while making NOCs aware of the possibilities available, such as the Solidarity Scholarships for athletes competing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, is another. "It's amazing how many NOCs haven't taken advantage of these scholarships," Kendall quips, shaking her head.

There is a lot of cooperation between the IOC and ANOC bodies, and they are currently jointly distributing a survey to discover issues most important to athletes. This list, which is currently topped by anti-doping measures, will then be analysed to work out regional, gender and age specific issues. This is described a "really good snapshot of the issues facing athletes today", because "there's no use being a voice if we are not going to tackle key issues".

Unsurprisingly, it is the interests of the athletes which most concerns Kendall when we broach the subject of Olympic Agenda 2020, with the 40 recommendations of the IOC Executive Board due to be finalised in a little over a week's time at the Extraordinary IOC Session in Monte Carlo on December 8 and 9.

"Oh, Olympic Agenda 2020 is huge for athletes", Kendall says, before highlighting two obvious concerns in measures to tackle doping and match fixing, to ensure a "level playing field".

Two other key issues raised span sexual harassment and abuse, particularly by coaches and officials to athletes, and selection processes for major events. "It is a problem when NOCs don't have clear selection issues in place, so athletes and National Federations are not aware of them, so all NOCs having robust criteria in place, and communicating it well, would solve a lot of problems."

Barbara Kendall (left) along with ANOC Athletes' Commission colleagues and IOC Athletes' Commission chair Claudia Bokel (right) ©ANOCBarbara Kendall (left) along with ANOC Athletes' Commission colleagues and IOC Athletes' Commission chair Claudia Bokel (right) ©ANOC

When we get onto some of the more general issues, Kendall's opinions are unsurprising, with "sustainability" the chosen buzzword.

"With host cities, it's an expensive process. How many cities can afford millions of dollars to bid for an Olympic Games? It's a cost thing. The whole Olympic Movement should be working how to make things more sustainable. The number of athletes at the Games, the type of sports that are competed - all of this comes under the banner of sustainability."

In this regard, Kendall is a keen supporter of a more flexible programme, and for the idea of host cities having a greater say as to what sports are included. "They should choose whether they want to have the legacy for that sport left behind or not," she says. "So they should work with the IOC and the international federations, but there should be flexibility."

If a sport does get added to the programme, then Kendall's personal choice would be very clear. Last month, during the International Surfing Association (ISA) 50th Anniversary World Surfing Games in Punta Roca, Peru, she was elected vice-president to serve under longstanding Argentinean President, Fernando Aguerre.

At the mere mention of the sport her eyes light up, and, even on the scale of enthusiasm I have already seen, surfing is clearly something that particularly excites her.

"If they want to keep the Olympics cool, then surfing should be in there," she tells insidethegames. "If I was to say what reflects Olympism the most - surfing. If you go to an international event and see how surfers are towards each other, and how it all works, it's the perfect example.

"The Olympic Games needs surfing."

Indeed, surfing does appear to encapsulate many of the core Agenda 2020 values, such as sustainability, youth-appeal and affordability. To show its growth, Kendall cites a recent holiday to Vanuatu, where they have "40-50 kids surfing every day after school".

"Kids weren't allowed to surf, but then they found that the ones who were surfing started doing better at school, they were more motivated and their diet was better. Now the whole village, boys and girls, are surfing and they're hoping to send a team to the World Surfing Games."

As shown by its hiring of several high profile consultants, surfing - unlike its board-based cousin, skateboarding, which is taking a more laissez-faire and wait and see approach - is actively and openly crusading to be part of the Olympic programme.

The sport of surfing is on a high as it looks to ride the wave of Olympic Agenda 2020 ©ISAThe sport of surfing is on a high as it looks to ride the wave of Olympic Agenda 2020 ©ISA

Having an Olympic champion and IOC member closely involved is a big advantage.

As a windsurfer, Kendall can understand and empathise with many of the teething problems they have as well as other issues common to any judged, wave-based and developing sport. 

She also insists that surfers, like sailors invariably have been, would be very content to be in a satellite village at the coast and away from the centre of the Games, although the technology does now exits to set up a wave pool virtually anywhere. "You could actually have surfing right on the beach, with a grandstand," she says, the sheer idea clearly exciting her.

"I would have said that without Agenda 2020 it would have been virtually impossible for surfing to get into the Olympic Games, because it was so closed shop, and processes weren't that great," she admits. "But with Agenda 2020 and the need to rejuvenate the programme, the chances are much better.

"But you know what, if surfing doesn't get into the Olympic Games in the next four to eight years, it's going to continue because it's such a fantastic sport. It would be great to be in, but it's one of those sport which is so cool, it wouldn't matter."

"It would be insane for the sport and for the Olympic Games - it is Olympism in action."

With barely a pause for breath, lest she bypass the opportunity for a virtually seamless link, Kendall adds, with the slightest of smiles: "And the other place you should visit to see Olympism in action, is Oceania - come to an Oceania General Assembly. It just so happens I'm associated to two perfect models that are the perfect models of Olympism."

So what of Oceania - the continent she has been praising at every opportunity for the last half an hour?

There are two big long term issues in Oceanic sport in terms of major events at the moment. One is the Pacific Games, where Australia and New Zealand will compete for the first time alongside the Pacific Islands in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea next July. The other involves possible Oceanic integration into Asian sporting events, with the 18 member of the Oceania National Olympic Committees set to participate in the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in 2017.

"With the Pacific Games, integration has to happen slowly," Kendall insists. "If they invited Australia and New Zealand to all the sports, it would be a whitewash. Obviously they're more advanced in their High Performance Structures than most of the islands. But for all the events in which qualifiers for the Olympic Games go through the Oceania avenue, it makes sense for those qualifiers to come within the Pacific Games to reduce the stress on the calendar, because so many events happen now

Port Moresby 2015 will be a major opportunity for Australia and New Zealand to fully integrate themselves into the Pacific Games ©Port Moresby 2015Port Moresby 2015 will be a major opportunity for Australia and New Zealand to fully integrate themselves into the Pacific Games ©Port Moresby 2015

In Port Moresby, where there will be 28 sports on the programme, both continental superpowers will compete in rugby sevens, weightlifting, sailing and taekwondo competitions, while New Zealand will also be taking part in football

Judo and boxing are among other sports where the two could also compete in future Games, Kendall speculates. She would also like a similarly ad-hoc approach to other Asian competitions, following the words of Olympic Council of Asia and ANOC President, Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah that Oceania could one day be fully integrated into the Asian Games. Whether there are Olympic qualification opportunities and the respective standard of sport on each continent are criteria that should be considered, she believes.

But she insists there is no serious danger of the continent's two superpowers being cut off from all the others, insisting that the continents biggest Polynesian population is in New Zealand and that her country is "a bit like a big brother" to the other nations and territories.

"We fit best there, New Zealand particularly," she adds.

As we wind well beyond our allotted time, but with Kendall showing none of the tell-tale signs of wanting to wind things up, I broach an area notably absent from our discussions so far - sailing.

It is clear Kendall sees herself more akin with extreme and board based sports, like surfing, than the other sailing events, talking about the concerns over the Rio 2016 Olympic venue at Guanabara Bay only with her Athletes' Commission hat on.

"I can't really comment as I haven't been there," she says. "We hope the water will be cleaned, as have heard a lot about pollution. It's the biggest issue and the only thing I have heard through the ISAF Athletes' Commission.

"Everyone else is really happy, with the location, the beach etc. All the sailors were posting heaps of good photos on Facebook, and are really stoked to be going."

Ah, I had been waiting for the word "stoked", a term I haven't heard much since the Winter Olympic snowboarding competition but a tell-tale sign I am talking to someone familiar with sport on a board. And not normal vocabulary for an IOC member.

"I've been a bit removed from windsurfing over the last three years or so," Kendall continues. "They had a combined World Championships in Santander, really good numbers, and the universality of windsurfing is great. Many countries win medals, like Hong Kong and Israel - it allows different nations to succeed. It is one of the cheapest sailing classes and is also cool and fun."

Former Dancing with the Stars New Zealand contestant Barbara Kendall shows her lighter side by performing a waltz with fellow Olympic champion Sebastian Coe at an Oceania National Olympic Committees dinner in 2009 ©Getty ImagesFormer Dancing with the Stars New Zealand contestant Barbara Kendall shows her lighter side by performing a waltz with fellow Olympic champion Sebastian Coe at an Oceania National Olympic Committees dinner in 2009 ©Getty Images

With Kendall a member of the IOC Woman and Sport Commission, it only takes the topic of female sports administrators for the trademark passion to be ramped up to boiling point again.

"One thing I've realised about the Olympic Movement is that it takes time to realise it takes time to get things done. You come in guns blazing ready to change the world. And then you say, ah s***, it's going to take a bit of time. On the field of play it is easy to increase female representations, but in women's leadership - Government, technical officials, coaches, Chef de Missions and so on - it's still really lacking.

"It just takes time. It's not so much about gender equality, but getting the right people for each job, and about getting diversity on Executive Boards."

But, despite my probing on the subject, Kendall claims to have no intention to stay on her herself and seek further Olympic roles, essentially because she cannot. Because 2016 will mark eight years since her last Olympic Games, she will no longer be considered an "active" athlete eligible for Commission membership. She will only continue with her ISA vice-presidency role.

So what will she do instead, I wonder, and receive a deeply passionate and revealing answer about the commitment required to work in the Olympic Movement, something often overlooked and forgotten about.

"I will try and be a mum," Kendall, who has two daughters, Samantha and Aimee, tells me.

"This is what people don't realise, is when you say yes to this Movement and serve this Movement, it becomes insane. I do 120-140 days per year for the Olympic Movement as a volunteer. Once you say yes, people don't realise the sacrifice you make to do this role.

"They just think we're on some sort of gravy train which goes from A to B, sitting around in meetings. I wouldn't have been able to do this if I had a real job, because I wouldn't have been able to turn up to all the meetings, and we wouldn't have made all the progress we have made in Oceania."

"Some IOC members don't realise, but how do you earn money, support a family, having a husband to support the kids. They don't think about all those things behind the scenes you have to sacrifice to do this job. I think you have to be slightly loopy, yes, slightly loopy. Either that or very passionate."

"I'm very passionate about providing a platform for athletes. If I hadn't been able to see progress, I would have given up ages ago. But slowly you can see the progress happening, and that is really rewarding."

And with two years left to make a mark, I am left with a sense of nervous sympathy for those - non Oceanic - NOCs who still do not have fully functioning Athletes' Commission. As well as, for that matter, anyone with an anti-Oceania, anti-surfing and anti-women-in-sport agenda.

For this is an administrator that means business...even if she is "slightly loopy".

Nick Butler is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here