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My wetsuit still dripping from a surf session at nearby Reef in La Jolla and I was already on a plane to Denmark, to attend the XIII Olympic Congress, the first one in 15 years. At this Congress, all stakeholders were invited to put forward proposals about the “Olympic Games in today’s society”, including the ways to keep the Games updated. As the president of the ISA (International Surfing Association), recognized by the IOC, I felt a need to help out.
A couple months ago I submitted two proposals to the Congress about how to keep the Olympic Games as a premium event and about Olympics and Youth – both were accepted for publication. I believe both items are strongly linked. The ability to keep the Games relevant to the youth is a sine qua non condition for healthy Games. This is very well known in Olympic circles and has been the subject of many submissions to the Congress and conversations at some of the highest levels in the Olympic world.
My proposals listed the inclusion of new, youth relevant action sports in the Games as part of the needed actions to keep the games in sync with the evolution of youth activities and their love for all things action sports. Millions of youngsters around the world continue to be puzzled by the absence of surf and skateboarding, following the successful introduction of snowboarding in 1998, at the Nagano Winter Games. We’ve always known that without man made waves, chances of having surfing included at places likes Beijing or London were zero.
Today, over 25 million people practice surfing in all five continents. Surfers from 3 to 90 years old, without distinctions of gender, race, religion, culture or nationality, enjoy their lives in the waves of all waters.. Surfing competitions have a totally standardized judging criteria and very well trained judges. As for man made waves, there are currently several companies in a full race to produce the first real life type wave, one that will run for 80 or 90 yards, standing 6 feet tall. It’s just a matter of time, until some of these technologies are fully operational.
In 1920, Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing anda Hawaiian multiple gold swimming medalist at two Olympic Games, asked for surfing to be included in the Games program. Since then, surfing has continued to grow enormously becoming one of the most popular and influential sports for today’s youth.
LANDING IN COPENHAGEN - October 1st, 2009
Arriving in Denmark is a beautiful shock. First of all: You don’t need to fill in immigration or Customs forms like in most countries. Just present your passport to a nice and welcoming officer, he scans it, and you are allowed inside Denmark. The place is full of people riding bicycles, all very nice to each other, helpful to visitors. It seems everybody speaks English. Upon arrival to the airport a big sign greeted me: “Welcome to the IOC Congress.” Then in a shuttle to a hotel full of security personnel, with registration to the Olympic Congress mandatory, even before you can check in at the hotel. But before all that, you needed to go through a metal detector. Probably around 100 police officers had the outside of the hotel “secured”, as they like to say.
As far as I knew, I was the only surfer at the hotel. But there were good signs for surfing on the way in. I did find many surfers… like in a huge advertisement from Verizon at the Chicago airport. Or as part of the Chicago presentation, yes in the Chicago presentation they have a female surfer in the waves of Lake Michigan, and in the Rio presentation, that included lots of beach and ocean shots, with some great surfing.
I went upstairs, unpacked and went down to the lobby area to find it full of more security personnel, sport celebrities and VIPs. As I was chatting with some friends of surfing, I looked over my shoulder, and 10 feet from me was standing the President of the Spanish government, Mr. Rodriguez Zapatero with Juan Carlos I and Sofía, king and queen of Spain respectively. I turned to the other side, hearing American English voices, and it was Oprah and a medium size entourage. Ten minutes later, down from the elevator came Brazil’s all time top soccer star, Pelé. Why so many VIPs? Well, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo were all bidding for the hosting rights of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games. Every country had come with all guns blazing. Brazil, Spain, Japan and the USA had their political leaders in attendance. Initially Barack Obama was not going to come, but in the end he had decided to come to the IOC meeting as well. The decision on the hosting city was going to be made by the IOC on October 2nd.
At around 6pm, we were all shuttled to the Opening Ceremony at the Copenhagen Opera house. Even Michelle Obama was now a part of the Chicago delegation. She was radiant, very down to earth and chatting casually with people around her.
We proceeded to take our seats, and a couple formal speeches later, we enjoyed a great performance by the Danish Royal Ballet.
At about 9pm, I arrived back to the hotel, ready for dinner and bed. But sleeping is not in the cards when you are fully jetlagged nine hours ahead of your home time. I was able to sleep only three hours…
MY FIRST TIME IN AN OLYMPIC SESSION - October 2nd, 2009
Next day, Friday, I attended the Opening of the Olympic Session (the name for the annual meeting of the IOC). All four cities made their presentation. They all looked very impressive. But the Chicago delegation had the plus of bringing along the most popular president of the USA in the last 50 years, Mr. Obama. Preceded by a great moving speech by his wife, President Obama did a great job showing his love for Chicago and explaining why it would be the best city to host the Games. Then came Tokyo’s somehow lukewarm presentation, followed by the very impactful Rio presentation, ending with Madrid. Experts were saying they felt Obama raised the bar for Chicago, Rio was very powerful, and Madrid and Tokyo, also very good, but maybe not as strong as the first two. All delegations brought their political leaders: Primer ministers, Presidents, even a King.
The meeting went into a coffee break, with only IOC members allowed to come back for the formal vote. All of us, including the Presidents of International Federations, were to stay outside the room. While the chances of surfing’s inclusion in the 2016 Games are basically zero, having the Games in surfing friendly Rio, sounded much better than elsewhere, being Rio the city with the largest surfing population of Latin America.
My own perception was that Rio had a leading edge over Chicago, with Madrid and Tokyo distant seconds due to other factors…
I stopped writing at 6:15pm, Denmark time, when it was announced that a city had been decided. Only 500 people were allowed to attend the announcement ceremony, a very exclusive affair, due to the small size of the room. The tension was in the air. The ceremony was being viewed by over 1 billion people worldwide…
RIO WON - October 3rd, 2009, early am…
It’s now the early hours of the 3rd of October, and I’m back on my computer in my hotel room…
Chicago was eliminated in the first vote. Tokyo in the second, and on to the third one, Rio received over 60% of the votes.
Rio had won. It was the largest Brazilian celebration I have ever seen outside a soccer match win… Everybody was jumping and celebrating… Brazilian president, Lula, had tears down his face, and so did the Sports Minister, Orlando Silva and Pelé. As soon as the announcement came, the entire Brazil delegation jumped off their seats and over the front row. With a few others in the audience, I quickly came down the stairs and joined in the celebration. We ended up jumping and singing “Cidade maravilhosa” (Wonderful City, a famous song talking about Rio), with the over 50 Brazilians of the official delegation.
As the excitement came down (a small bit), the celebration continued at the hotel were the Brazilian delegation was hosted. It included live samba music, good food and drinks, with many IOC members from all over the world stopping by to join in and congratulate the Brazilians, especially the leader of the bid, IOC member, and Brazilian National Olympic Committee President, Mr. Carlos Nuzman.
THE XIII OLYMPIC CONGRESS OPENS, - October 3rd, 2009
On the next day, the first day of the Congress, Saturday, October 3rd, the climate was of excitement for the decision on the day before. For the first time in history the Olympic Games were awarded to a South American nation.
With that background, we all proceed to a giant hall, where the 1,200 delegates and IOC officials, attended the Opening Ceremony. During the first one and a half hours we heard keynote speeches and for the rest of the morning and afternoon, we went into breakout sessions, where all attendees interacted and were able to exchange views on all subjects related to the Olympic Movement and the Games.
On the second day, the UN Secretary General addressed the Congress giving a great keynote speech on the role of sports and the Olympic Movement in today’s world and their role for a more peaceful future.
While the daily agenda included 10 hours per day of meetings, discussions, speeches and presentations, I was not feeling tired at all. I enjoyed the three days very much, learning so much about the Olympic Movement. I met over fifty IOC members from all over the world, from members of Royalty to world famous gold medalists that had just joined the IOC after ending their competitive careers. All are very educated individuals, loving what they do, and passionate about sports and their role as part of a better world. I also met Presidents of other International Federations, of National Olympic Committees and several IOC Headquarters staff. Finally on the last day, I met IOC President Mr. Jacques Rogge, with whom I had a brief conversation in Spanish, which he spoke very fluently.
As I walked out of the Bella Center Hall, on the last day of the Congress, I couldn’t help but think that the selection of Rio for the 2016 Games was great for surfing. After all, Rio is the birthplace and cradle of surfing in Brazil, a country with a population of over 5 million surfers, arguably the sport with the largest amount of participants after soccer. The Brazilian National Surfing Team had won several ISA World Championships, including the ISA World Surfing Games in 2000, in Porto de Galinhas, in the Northeast of Brazil. As I boarded the bus to the hotel, I suddenly remembered the fond moment when, during the World Surfing Games opening ceremony in 2000, a person I had met on the very same day gave a warm welcome speech that had all the 31 national surfing teams cheering… On that occasion he said, “I believe surfing has the conditions to be part of the Olympic Program.” I could have never imagined on that sunny day in Brazil, in 2000, that that very same person, Mr. Carlos Nuzman, was going to lead Brazil to win the bid for the 2016 Olympic Games…
About the ISA
The International Surfing Association (ISA) is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the World Governing Authority for Surfing. It was originally founded as the International Surfing Federation in 1964 and has been running world championships since 1964 and the Junior World Championships since 1980.
ISA membership includes the surfing National Governing Bodies (NGBs) of over 50 countries on six continents. Its headquarters are located in La Jolla, California. It is presided by Fernando Aguerre, first elected in 1994 in Rio, and re-elected six times since. The ISA's four Vice Presidents are Alan Atkins (Australia), Robin de Kock (South Africa), Mike Gerard (USA) and Karín Sierralta (Peru).
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