Lausanne is set to welcome around 300 athletes for the International Athletes’ Forum amid increasing calls for greater representation and a bigger share of Olympic revenue.
The forum will begin tomorrow and run until Monday (April 15) at the Olympic Capital in Switzerland.
All 206 National Olympic Committees (NOC) Athletes’ Commissions were invited to attend, alongside their counterparts from International Federations (IFs), the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Paralympic Committee and upcoming Olympic host cities.
Among the items on tomorrow's agenda will be direct and indirect support to athletes, as well as a session on anti-doping.
Breakout sessions will also be held for the Athletes Commissions from NOCs, IFs and Olympic Games Organising Committees.
The following day will begin with a focus on the “changing landscape”, as well as sessions on the Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities declaration, and protecting athletes.
Proceedings will conclude with a question-and-answer session with IOC President Thomas Bach.
“The athlete world is complex, facing different needs and issues in many areas,” said Kirsty Coventry, IOC Athletes’ Commission chair.
“The ninth International Athletes’ Forum will give us a chance to listen to each other, have constructive discussions on critical topics and learn collectively from our experiences.
“The athletes’ voices are invaluable, and having the NOC Athletes’ Commissions present, with all other participants, at this edition will ensure an even more diverse and effective exchange of views."
The Forum, which will take place at SwissTech Convention Centre, has been viewed as an opportunity to help unite the athlete voice following a public dispute between some competitors, largely involving athlete groups at the IOC and WADA, in the fallout from the Russian doping scandal.
The IOC has also publicly criticised those who claim to speak on behalf of athletes, including the WADA Athlete Committee, repeatedly stressing how its own Athletes' Commission is "democratically elected" – even though appointments to the body have been made in the past.
The IOC has come under increasing pressure in recent months, particularly from the independent German athletes’ group, Athleten Deutschland.
Athleten Deutschland urged the IOC to distribute a larger share of revenue generated by the Olympic Games to athletes and to provide increased independent representation for competitors, without influence of sports bodies, in a statement earlier this month.
The group also outlined a series of proposals which it claimed would "ensure athletes' rights are sufficiently respected and upheld" in the position paper.
The IOC claimed "many of the initiatives" raised by the group had been taken on board.
A recent decision in Germany, which significantly scaled back the organisation's Rule 40, has been hailed as a success by athletes but current and former competitors have insisted they are entitled to more.
A host of athletes have also spoken up in recent months to demand increased representation in the decision-making process within major sports bodies.
Athleten Deutschland believes the IOC should help oversee the creation of "truly independent and professional athlete representation" without the influence of sports organisations, such as International Federations.
Prior to the forum, the recently launched Global Athlete organisation published an open letter backing Athleten Deutschland’s position.
Global Athlete claims to be independent of National Anti-Doping Organisations, sport and Government and is largely being funded by non-profit foundation FairSport.
The group has pledged to give athletes from across the sporting world a voice and aims to "repair the disconnect" between competitors and leaders of global sports bodies.
The organisation told insidethegames they were not invited to the forum.
⏱️TIME FOR MEANINGFUL CHANGE— Global Athlete (@GlobalAthleteHQ) April 10, 2019
ALL ATHLETES from ALL COUNTRIES can request the International Olympic Committee liberates their commercial rights, following recent German Athletes Rule 40 Victory. It's only fair. @iocmedia @athletesger @hartungmax #WeAreAthlete #FairnessIsFairness pic.twitter.com/xSI5V2UgN9
Global Athlete director general Rob Koehler claimed athletes present at the forum had a “unique opportunity” to request a level playing field from the IOC and to ask for “concrete solutions” to their requests.
“This is an important opportunity for athletes from around the world to come together and discuss emerging issues that are deeply affecting the collective international athlete population, issues that have spurred the athlete community to speak up for change like never before,” Koehler wrote.
“Athletes must request a detailed accounting of how IOC funds are distributed with the goal to better understanding what percentage of the dollar directly goes into athletes’ pockets compared to what is distributed to the IFs and NOCs.
“Such a transparent review would educate athletes and be a springboard for open dialogue to change the status quo.
“Athletes have a unique opportunity to request that the IOC provides a level playing field when it comes to marketing rights by allowing all athletes from all countries attending the Olympic Games to have the same rights as the German athletes obtained recently through a court ruling on Olympic Charter Rule 40.
“We encourage all athletes to join the momentum for change to how sport is run.
"We encourage sporting organisations to listen to the growing athlete voice and we support athletes in embracing meaningful calls for change without the fear of retribution.
“Athletes are the number one stakeholder in sport, and their rights must always be prioritised.
“We look forward to seeing some tangible athlete-centred outcomes from the IOC Athletes’ Forum, ones that build a stronger collective voice and continue the momentum towards securing and protecting athlete rights within the Olympic movement and beyond.”
The IOC has billed the forum as an opportunity for athlete representatives to “become more empowered to better run their Athletes’ Commissions and be more conscious about the influential role they can have on the sports movement”.
The forum is scheduled to conclude on Monday (April 15) with a joint event with the World Olympians Association (WOA), who will provide a further 148 participants from their associations.
The joint session is part of a wider strategic initiative between WOA and the IOC Athletes’ Commission to work in partnership on Olympian and athlete welfare, development and engagement.
The event will launch the WOA’s second World Olympians Forum, which will run until April 17.
The forum will have the theme of "Olympians for Life" and is set to focus on strengthening National Olympians Associations (NOA) and building relationships with the Olympic Movement and wider sporting community.
Workshops, presentations, networking events and cultural celebrations are expected to feature as part of the Forum, according to the WOA.
“As torchbearers of the Olympic Movement and a vital, living legacy of the Games, it is important that Olympians remain connected and feel valued,” said Jöel Bouzou, WOA President.
“I very much look forward to engaging with them on the issues that matter most to Olympians.
“I am also pleased to welcome the involvement of IOC President Thomas Bach, who will make an invaluable contribution to our discussions, further underlining the strength of our partnership with the IOC and underpinning our shared strategic priority, under Agenda 2020, to engage with the athletes at the heart of the Olympic Games.
“We are particularly excited about our joint session alongside the ninth International Athletes’ Forum – which will take place on 15 April – and we have been working closely with the IOC Athletes’ Commission on developing the joint day that will allow us to better connect and support Olympians and athletes in the future.”