THE BLOG
01/21/2015 10:28 am ET Updated Mar 23, 2015

The Olympic Agenda 2020: A Global Reset for Sport, Sustainability and Legacies

Welcome to 2015, the Year of Sport in Canada! This year the nation will be hosting three large sporting events beginning with the Canada Winter Games in Prince George (Feb 15-Mar 1), followed by the FIFA Women's World Cup in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton (June 6-July 5), and the Pan American Games (July 10-26) and Parapan American Games (August 7-15) in Toronto. Whether watching, practicing or competing, sport continues to inspire fans and athletes of all ages.

Five years ago, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games staged an extraordinary winter sport competition, along with cultural events leading to enhanced tourism and, certainly, national pride. Vancouver 2010 also provided the very first benchmark in sustainability and legacy planning for Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games bids and hosts. Bold environmental, social and economic commitments delivered compact games, broad consultation and social inclusion (including indigenous people), multipurpose venue designs, investment in sport development and balanced budgets. The sustainability initiatives provided a forum for innovation around running the events and selecting the related products and services.

In the years that have followed, Canada has played an important role in the development and use of new domestic and international sustainable event standards and guides. We have also played a role in updating international Olympic policies concerning sport, sustainability and legacy. Many may still say "change is slow" or "sporadic." To evaluate how well we have actually progressed at home, The Ann Duffy Group plans to provide a review of the sustainability and legacy features of the three major sport events hosted this year.

In the meantime, it is worth noting two strategic policy developments that Canadians have inspired, and whose impact has and will contribute future Olympic bids, Games and legacies:

  1. Agenda 2020 -- a set of recommendations for the IOC and the Olympic Movement, and
  2. The Olympic Charter's specific language on LGBTQ human rights.

The changes were influenced by mounting issues affecting the Olympic brand and many of the 220-plus national Olympic Committees worldwide, sparked in the aftermath of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

Sochi 2014: A Catalyst for Change

Rightly or wrongly, Sochi 2014 was a bit of a lightening rod illuminating the need for change, and not surprisingly, the post-Games ripple effect was mixed.

On the positive side, the Games made progressive steps by staging more sport disciplines than ever before, and national volunteer participation rates reached unprecedented high levels. In what the IPC hailed as the best Paralympic Winter Games, strong awareness of and performance by Paralympians was shared across sport disciplines and by both genders. Significant investment was made in regional infrastructure, including sport venues, resort facilities, and air, rail and road transportation. Spectators and viewers were treated to high caliber presentations of the sport and culture events themselves, creating spectacular and memorable experiences for all. Canada's national team would clock the highest medal count for a Winter Olympic Games held offshore, and Canadians experienced unprecedented levels of engagement and viewing (helped, of course, by 24-hour media feeds).

However, on the negative side, the Sochi Games incurred the highest costs in Winter Olympic Games' history -- $52 billion -- and raised unforeseen social concerns. In the final months leading up to the Games, new national laws discriminated against the LGBTQ community, and public protests ensued.

Reaction to these challenges led to several subsequent Winter Olympic Bid Cities such as Stockholm, Krakow and Oslo withdrawing from the 2022 bid process mid-course. While each city had their own reasons, common issues were certainly lack of public confidence in responsible financing; concern for post-Games "white elephants" (venues that do not benefit the host city and country in the long term); and lack of transparency in major decision-making processes.

Agenda 2020

The timing of these challenges coincided with Thomas Bach's first year as IOC President. Bach launched a process involving sweeping and broad international engagement across the Olympic Movement to identify issues, challenges and opportunities, and to ultimately generate a set of priorities to better guide the Movement in the future.

This work led to briefings and an impressive level of analysis by the IOC. The Canadian Olympic Committee provided input, particularly on sustainability and legacy topics, including examples of strategies leading to successful outcomes. As a new member of the IOC Sport and Environment Commission, I found the discussions to be far reaching, sound and inspiring.

On December 8, 2014, the IOC Board approved Agenda 2020 in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Agenda 2020 recommendations are built around three priority themes: Sustainability, credibility and youth. The three priorities are inter-related, and together will guide future decision-making for bids, Games hosting, as well as the IOC's work in international development with its 220-plus national Olympic Committees and the United Nations.

The sustainability theme includes recommendations for compact Olympic Games with opportunities for other countries to host selected sport disciplines, and a stronger focus on the host country's legacies and long-term benefits.

Human rights for the LGBTQ Community

Many will recall that leading up to the Sochi 2014 Games, street protests broke out, with Russian citizens speaking out against new national propaganda laws and discrimination toward LGBTQ communities. The global spotlight of the Olympic Games attracted unprecedented international media attention to this issue.

A feature of Olympic Games are "Live Sites" -- places in the host city offering food, music and entertainment, where the public can gather and engage with televised coverage, cultural performances and activations with sponsors and partners. Reflecting the Olympics' "We are One" principle, Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 Live Sites included a Pride House, a place for gay athletes, families and friends, while Sochi 2014 did not.

It is important to note that "social inclusion" is a fundamental tenant within the Olympic Charter. While there is still work to be done, Canada enjoys a comparatively high degree of tolerance and inclusion for people of all walks of life and orientations. With this in mind, two gay advocates, Tim Stevenson, Councillor for the City of Vancouver, and Maureen Douglas, former Communications Director from the Vancouver 2010 Organizing Committee, travelled to Sochi in February 2014 to meet with the IOC.

Tim and Maureen joined with Jochen Farber, IOC Head of President's Executive Office, and Mark Adams, IOC Communications Director, to point out that while the Olympic Charter included text on the promotion of social inclusion and non-discrimination, it was missing specific text on LBGTQ issues.

They were heard!

Nine months later, IOC President Thomas Bach recommended including "non-discrimination on sexual orientation in the 6th Fundamental Principle of Olympism." These words are now part of Agenda 2020, and the IOC Board adopted the changes in the Olympic Charter. Councilor Stevenson, Maureen Douglas, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and many in Canadian sport were thrilled.

"Sport is one of the great equalizers in our society, and every person deserves to be included regardless of the level of competition." -- Mark Tewksbury, Olympic Champion (Canadian), Chef du Mission with Team Canada, London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games

In December 2014, the Canadian Olympic Committee took even further steps to encourage tolerance and support for LGBTQ athletes by launching the #OneTeam initiative with Egale Canada (a Canadian charity promoting LGBT human rights) and You Can Play (a U.S.-based charity dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation). The COC has also added language to its by-laws, and is training staff to "create a highly-inclusive corporate culture."

The Road Ahead

It's clear from these examples that responding to challenges can lead to change that, in turn, can lead to new wording that, in turn, can lead to better decision-making for athletes and citizens in sport and beyond.

As for Agenda 2020 and its impact on future bids and Games? Though only time will tell, we should see substantial change in the 2024 Summer Olympic bids. In the meantime, with 2015 as the Year of Sport and three major sport events happening across the country, Canada will have the nation and the world watching. Those of us involved with sustainability, sport and good governance have our work cut out for us.

Bring it!