(ATR) Newly elected World Olympians Association president Joel Bouzou tells Around the Rings "champions have a role to play" in society at large.
Bouzou, 56, an Olympian in modern pentathlon at four Games, went on to become secretary general of the sport’s international federation. More than six years ago, he launched the Peace and Sport initiative as a way to help young people in regions of the world facing strife.
Now he takes office as WOA president after defeating incumbent Dick Fosbury and former VP Charmaine Crooks late last month at the quadrennial WOA General Assembly in Lausanne.
Bouzou says he will use his latest platform to help Olympians serve as role models for youth to bring them back to sport.
Read on for his vision of the WOA and its next four years.
Around the Rings: What is your goal as president of the WOA?
Joel Bouzou: My goal is to take the organization to another level.
There are two dimensions I would like to tackle: one is selling the society and activating the WOA as a global player, and the other is helping the Olympians. I think that to serve the Olympians, you can do that only if you have demonstrated you can serve the society because it requires support, for example, from the governments serving the Olympians and that will happen only if you have them recognizable in society.
As with a lot of venues today, the champions have a role to play, and the Olympians have a role to play with sport programs to attract kids to education. A lot of people do it in their corner, and some people are doing it very well. I think it is very important to collect all the best participants and to put them at the disposal of the community to a platform.
So what I would like is not only to be finally the president of the WOA for four years but to have the organization work, for example, to set up a World Olympians Forum every second year in between our General Assemblies. Athletes would come, and we would talk about the best practices so everyone could come back with qualified methods for their countries and set up a complete action phase in their local strong commissions.
That’s one part of what I would like to do. For sure, I would like to demonstrate to the IOC that the WOA is a very useful organization. If we do that, we will strengthen the connection with the IOC, and we will be partners, and this will be essential with the contract the IOC has with its sponsors which will get revenue to the overall Olympic package. That’s my wish, that’s my vision, and all the team that has been elected shares that vision.
ATR: What would you say is the most important part of that – making the organization work or having the best practices in place to help out the national Olympians associations?
JB: The best practices are the events which can activate all of the things together as a global force and do good, which is what I want to do. The most important thing is we need to put the best practices everywhere around the world so that Olympians can be a concrete one to attract lots of kids to sport programs, especially in the unrelated places.
ATR: Who else was elected to WOA leadership positions in Lausanne?
JB: Anthony Ledgard Grimm of Peru is the new secretary general. Amadou Dia Ba, who is a longtime friend from Senegal , is one vice president, and George Andreadis from Greece, who was very much involved in sailing and who has very tight connections with very important people in the IOC, is the other VP.
Then you have a new treasurer, Patrick Singleton from Bermuda. He is a business man so he has a lot of experience in his already young career, and he is fresh and can bring a lot. He also has Cor van Aanholt, who is Dutch but who is living in theCaribbean, [on the WOA Executive Committee]. They are both businessmen, so they know what it is to lead an organization like that. They should be on the financial side, and it is good that those two are elected because they know so much I think about business, and I don’t want to manage finances so the treasurer will do it and we need a treasurer that has experience.
The other three are Alper Kasapoglu of Turkey, who is very much involved in sport business, and [former WOA president Dick Fosbury of the U.S.] The last one elected was Liston Bochette of Puerto Rico.
We have a team that is experienced and full of knowledge and very competitive.
ATR: Have you talked to Dick Fosbury and Charmaine Crooks following the election? Do they want to remain involved?
JB: Charmaine was not elected. She left early, and yes we had some talks. They were friendly talks.
With Dick, yes he is involved. We talked after the election, and we talked before the election to ensure that our team will be fair and there will be a winner between the two of us and there will be a fair winner, and it was very much respectful.
ATR: So no hard feelings between you and him?
JB: Not on my part, I hope it is the same[for him]. Not on my part now. I’m a good guy. Everywhere I go I am a good guy, not a fighter.
ATR: With your election, do you think Peace and Sport patron Prince Albert II of Monaco will become more involved with the WOA?
JB: Yeah, sure. I’m not talking about sponsoring, but involved yes.
Another point also: I think it will renew that I am a team player. I love very much working on teams, and I love to give credit to people who devote themselves and their services for the team. People know the team of Peace and Sport and get motivated by them because it’s really a global team, and something very important to me is getting the best of everyone on the team to make the global project a success.
ATR: Does your term as WOA president start now?
JB: Yes, absolutely.
ATR: You said you want to change the relationship between the WOA and the IOC. As the organization progresses, maybe having a seat on the IOC Executive Board is something to shoot for?
JB: I will meet with President Jacques Rogge [soon] I am sure. I have a very close connection with the sport department, and I know the person from the administration who is following the development of the organization likes me. We have known each other for 15 years, and he knows what I can do.
I also have a very good connection with [IOC Athletes Liaison] Peter Tallberg, who is a long-term friend who visits regularly with Peace and Sport.
I think on my side I am very pragmatic. The WOA will get what the WOA deserves. We are going to work to demonstrate that the Olympians are important too. We need to give life to this organization – day-to-day life – and then we have to convince governments to apply partnerships and practices so that in return there will be sporting events and the Olympians will be supportive.
ATR: Is there anything I’m forgetting to ask or anything else you wanted to tell me?
JB: No, I am glad to be in this position, and I will do my best to spend this term with a lot of energy so that the confidence that has been given to me and to the team was really deserved and so that we will get good results.
Interview conducted byEdward Hula III.
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