Former badminton international Kaveh Mehrabi, who competed at the Beijing Olympics 2008 and six BWF World Championships, was appointed Director of the IOC Athletes’ Department recently. Formerly Chair of the BWF Athletes’ Commission, Mehrabi went on to serve in a number of international sports organisations, including Peace and Sport, Special Olympics, and the Organising Committee of the first European Games in 2015.
Shortly after he took over as Director of the Athletes’ Department, the IOC conducted the 10th International Athletes’ Forum on 26-27 May. With nearly 2,000 athletes’ commission members registered to participate virtually, it was the largest athlete representative event ever held.
In this interview with BWF, Mehrabi talks about his role as Director, highlights of the International Athletes’ Forum, and IOC’s engagement with and support for the athlete community.
Congratulations on your appointment as Director of the IOC Athletes’ Department. Having been an Olympic athlete yourself, what does this mean to you?
I am humbled by the trust and confidence that has been put in me to lead the IOC Athletes’ Department. It is certainly a huge honour and responsibility. As an Olympian and former athletes’ representative, it has been such a privilege to work with and for athletes since I retired in 2012. I am very grateful that I will be able to continue to serve the athlete community and the Olympic Movement at large in this new role.
Could you highlight for us your priorities in this role?
There are number of priorities from the organisational point of view which cascade down to different departments and teams. In terms of priorities, there are five areas we have with the team:
Organisationally, our absolute top priority is to ensure the safe and successful delivery of the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo and Beijing (Winter Olympics) for all participants as well as for the Japanese and Chinese people.
The next key priority is to support the implementation of the athlete-related recommendations of the Olympic Agenda 2020+5 in the coming months and years.
In terms of day-to-day focus, we will support the IOC Athletes’ Commission and the IOC to continue to engage with athletes on issues important to the athlete community. This means continued involvement of athletes in the decision-making at all levels and across the Olympic Movement through an effective and active network of athletes’ commissions.
We will continue to put a lot of effort and energy to support athletes and Olympians throughout their journey and in their sporting and non-sporting career. This includes areas such as supporting athletes with dual career and career transition, holistic well-being in the areas of physical and mental health and safe sport as well as innovative support programmes with Olympic TOP Partners and Rights Holder Broadcasters, to name a few key areas.
Finally, and very importantly, we only maximise the impact of our work through collaboration and partnership. At the IOC many departments deliver programmes that benefit athletes directly and indirectly. Also, all International Federations and NOCs have dedicated programmes and put huge effort in supporting their athletes. It is fundamental for us to ensure that we maximise the impact of our collective effort through close coordination, collaboration and partnership across the Olympic Movement and at all levels.
Your thoughts on Recommendation 3 of Olympic Agenda 2020+5, since the Athletes’ Department was created in the background of Recommendation 3.
Recommendation 3 of the Olympic Agenda 2020+5 focuses on reinforcing athletes’ rights and responsibilities across the Olympic Movement. Establishing the IOC Athletes’ Department was part of this recommendation which demonstrates the clear focus of the IOC in continuing to support and engage with the athlete community. This journey started already with the Olympic Agenda 2020 nearly seven years ago and reinforces the importance of athletes at the heart of everything we do at the IOC.
The 10th International Athletes’ Forum on 26-27 May was the largest-ever athlete representative event. What were the main outcomes and successes of this event?
It is ultimately for the athlete community to judge the event. As we delivered the Forum fully digitally, we tried to go outside the box and make sure that it was not just another “Zoom call” while ensuring that in our limited time, we still dedicate time to the most important topics for athletes. It was a huge team effort by the IOC Athletes’ Commission and many different parts of the IOC.
To maximise the impact of the virtual format, the IOC Athletes’ Commission invited all members of the athletes’ commissions from across the Olympic Movement where previously we would have only been able to invite the Chair of the commissions. We had nearly 2,000 athlete representatives pre-registered for the event.
Our biggest challenge was that it is impossible to do a global virtual event at a time slot that works for all time zones. We were very pleased with the attendance and the fact that we received so many questions and comments during each session demonstrated the engagement and interest of the athlete representatives in the Forum.
In terms of highlights, it was fantastic to see the excitement of the athlete community about the upcoming Olympic Games. Together with International Federations and NOCs, we also count on athlete representatives’ active engagement to ensure that athletes have the latest information as they go through their final preparation for the Olympic Games in Tokyo and Beijing. The importance of effective athlete representation as well as athlete well-being were also highlighted throughout the Forum.