Brussels, 11th January 2022 – With less than a month until the Winter Olympic Games Beijing 2022, the Europe-Asia Center has as part of the East-Meets-West webinar series highlighted the topic of Sports diplomacy. Titled “’Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together’ – The Importance of Sport Diplomacy in Building Asia-Europe Relations”, the webinar provides insightful dialogue with Olympic champions on significance of Olympic spirit.
Sports diplomacy is a new term that describes an old practice: the unique power of sport to bring people, nations, and communities closer together via a shared love of physical pursuits. Though sport diplomacy is not new, the power of sport has never been more important for our current century. On 20 July 2021, the International Olympic Committee approved a change in the Olympic motto that recognises the unifying power of sport and the importance of solidarity. The change adds the word “together”, now reading as: “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together”.
The change of the motto reflects on the longstanding three values of Olympism – excellence, friendship and respect. Sharing their insights on the topic were H.E. Ambassador (ret.) Piet Steel, Chairman Europe-Asia Center as well as of Special Olympics Belgium, the Winter sports Royalty and 4 Olympic medal-winner in Alpine skiing Tina Maze, Olympic champion canoeist Peter Kauzer, snowboarding star on the rise Tim Mastnak and President and Managing director of Special Olympics Europe- Euroasia David Evangelista.
Excellency Steel in his keynote address emphasized that sport is politically neutral and has the power of bringing the world closer. Therefore, sport should be used for uniting people, regardless of political differences and political tensions between countries. In closing note, he also conveyed his wish that Winter Olympic Games in Beijing would succeed in such attempt.
The Slovenian winter sports royalty Tina Maze noted that sport is not only profession, but even more importantly a good balance to life. Ms Maze, multi-talented skier who won a total of four Olympic medals and nine for the World Championships, emphasized that “once you have a talent, you should really appreciate it, work on it and don’t throw it away”. She expressed the values and discipline acquired through sports plays an important role even for ordinary people, especially in this era of lockdowns and many of us are working with a sedentary lifestyle.
As a world-class athlete and Olympic champion, nowadays also a renowned TV commentator and entrepreneur, Ms. Maze shared the experience of transitioning her career from professional sports into the sports industry. She emphasized the significance of communication in enhancing public awareness of sport. In a competition or a race, an athlete can only focus on the sport and has very few opportunities to talk. Being a TV commentator allows her to have a stronger voice: “I feel very comfortable talking about the experiences and it’s great that people can understand through communication.”
Ms. Maze also expressed her positive attitude towards the impact of the Winter Olympics on the development of winter sports in China. She stressed the influence of sports heroes and idols: “They bring a will and a vision of what you want to become.” She believes that bringing Winter Olympics to China and other countries will benefit the future generations.
Peter Kavzer, Slovenian slalom canoeist with two Canoe slalom World championship titles and Olympic silver medallist, shared a challenging journey in his athletic career. However, things that truly allowed him to not give up were his goals: continuously aiming and reaching for higher goals. In his view, every Olympian is training to be the best, to bring the best out of himself or herself and to reach their whole potential. That is the beauty of the sport and the Olympic movement.
Regarding the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, Mr. Kavzer believes that the International Olympic Committee has made the right choice to select Beijing as the host city. He shared his experience at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when the Chinese Olympic Committee provided high-quality services for athletes and won his trust by successfully “coping with all obstacles”.
Slovenian snowboarder Tim Mastnak has set a spotlight on his career by winning the Junior World Cup in parallel giant slalom in 2011. He will be heading as one of the favourites to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games. He looks at Olympic Games as a gift, an opportunity to feel the true spirit of sports and gain motivation for further improvement. He emphasized the importance of meeting outstanding athletes from other disciplines and getting motivational boast to reach the best of you.
Rounding-up the panel discussion was David Evangelista, the President and Managing director of Special Olympics Europe/Euroasia who advocated for the societies to put more emphasis also towards the athletes with disabilities. It is the athletes with disabilities that in his words embody the true Olympic spirit and the very best of the Olympic ideals of solidarity and universality. Mr Evangelista, who oversees the program operations of Special Olympics in 58 countries in Western, Central and Eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, noted that sports is an “universal unifier”. The athletes and the audiences follow the same solidarity, the same grit, and the same discipline. Everyone can enjoy the simple thrill of competing in sports. He stressed on sports being the major driver for multilateralism and international cooperation.
In response to the question of moderator Matic Gajsek about the transformative impact of the Beijing Winter Olympics on people with intellectual disabilities, Excellency Steel proposed that Beijing should strive for sending the uniting message to the outside world, which is the very same message that was sent by the Special Olympics European Summer Games 2014 held in Antwerp, Belgium. About 70 delegations from different parts of Europe and Eurasia attended the Games and used sport to break the taboo of discrimination against disabled people. “Athletes in Special Olympics are not there to represent their country; they are there to represent themselves. They are there to use sport as a means to express their weaknesses or strengths. Sometimes they have much more strength than you could imagine,” he added.
Finally, Mr. Evangelista reiterated that mega sporting events have the unique ability to captivate the attention in the imagination of the global community, especially in the changing world where division is taking place across the political, sociological and in some cases, across the health and education spectrum. However, it is thanks to the Olympic movement we still see people who are brave in facing the hardship and uncertainty. Mr. Evangelista noted: “We have sport to cut through the noise to show the core of ourselves. Sport offers us the chance to put the words down – where only actions count.”
Full webinar available on the link: https://youtu.be/931I9x33h4E
— For press enquiries:
Matic Gajšek, Deputy director Europe – Asia Center E-mail: m.gajsek(at)europe-asia.org