Representing Africa

Inas Mazhar , Tuesday 27 Oct 2020

 Abeer Essawi becomes the first Egyptian female athlete to join the executive board of the World Olympians Association

 Having taken part in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games while on the Egyptian taekwondo team, Abeer Essawi officially became an “Olympian”, thus winning a seat on the executive board of the World Olympians Association (WOA), writes Inas Mazhar.

According to Secretary-General of the Egyptian National Olympic Committee (ENOC) Sherif Al-Erian, “it was time an Egyptian Olympian joined the executive board of WOA. The ENOC had to nominate an athlete and we had two choices: Abeer or a male athlete. We thought Abeer might have a better chance. We supported her and endorsed her nomination as an African representative,” Al-Erian explained.

“She prepared her manifesto and we sent it to the board and supported her campaign until she won the seat of Africa against other candidates from the continent,” Al-Erian added. “We are so glad and proud of her victory which adds to our other former celebrity athletes who have seats at the International Olympic Committee including swimmer Rania Elwani and Modern Pentathlete Aya Medani who are both commission members.”

WOA is an organisation recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) supporting 100,000 Olympians worldwide. Its remit is to work for the benefit of all Olympians at all stages of their lives, empowering them to serve society and help make the world a better place through sport. With 96 member National Olympians Associations and more to come spread across all five continents, WOA provides support to Olympian-run events and projects based on the Olympic ideals laid down by the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin.

In her manifesto, Essawi, who will represent Africa, addressed her fellow Olympians. “As a proud Olympian I am delighted to represent Africa and serve Olympians all around the world on the WOA Executive Board. I look forward to communicating Africa’s voice and be an effective player through a global cooperation with the WOA Executive Board members to create more creative solutions for Olympians.

“My goals are to work closely together to strengthen the WOA and National Olympic Associations (NOA) by forging strategic partnerships to lead sustainable projects and services for Olympians; assist, strengthen and activate more NOA’s of Africa and to encourage and empower my fellow African Olympians; be an advocate for more gender balance and female representation within our NOAs; inspire the whole world by celebrating Olympians stories and initiatives, and as I believe listening to those stories will allow us to know each other, trust and most importantly to care and let people care.

“Using my experience and platform as an Olympian to keep generating the interest in Olympic Sports in Africa and beyond with the intention of creating a united, stronger and larger sport-based community.

“I believe in the Olympism and the collective diverse teamwork outcome alongside with the power of sports as a universal non-verbal language that we all understand. It brings us peacefully together, remains essential for our wellbeing, gives us reason to stay active, has the ability to inspire lives and create a better world.

“We need each other suggestions, willingness to embrace our differences and support to form a stronger bond together. Let us thrive together!” Essawi said.

Following her win, Essawi took to social media to share her joy and thank all those who supported her in the elections and celebrated her achievement.

At the same time, Joël Bouzou was re-elected as president of the WOA after standing unopposed at the 2020 WOA General Assembly. WOA Secretary-General Anthony Ledgard Grimm and WOA Treasurer Patrick Singleton were also re-elected.

The General Assembly and election took place online due to Covid-19 and associated travel restrictions and social distancing measures. NOAs joined the assembly from all five continents around the world to vote on the WOA leadership and set a course for the future strategic direction of the organisation.

As a four-time Olympian and bronze medal winner who competed for France in the Modern Pentathlon, Bouzou’s re-election was a resounding vote of confidence in his leadership. Bouzou has overseen the transformation of WOA, strengthened engagement and support for NOAs, deepened ties with the IOC and other Olympic Family organisations, and reinforced WOA’s mission to be of service to and empower Olympians worldwide.

“I am absolutely delighted to be re-elected president of World Olympians Association and I am grateful to our NOA membership for their strong show of support. The past two terms have been extremely rewarding as WOA flourished, grew and established its place firmly within the Olympic movement,” Bouzou said.

“In these uncertain times, it is fulfilling to see Olympians rise to current global social challenges – acting as beacons of hope during the pandemic, reaching out to their communities and keeping the legacy and spirit of the games alive. WOA’s mission is to ensure Olympians have the tools, support and opportunities needed to thrive throughout their lives and continue to make an important difference in this world,” Bouzou added.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President and WOA Honourary President Thomas Bach told the meeting: “In these difficult times, we need our shared values of excellence, friendship, respect and solidarity. As Olympians you personify these Olympic values in the best possible way. This gives me the opportunity to express my admiration for the way that Olympians around the world have responded to this crisis.

“With your support and inspiring messages, you have demonstrated that solidarity runs strong in our Olympic community. This General Assembly is sending an important message: sport, athletes and importantly Olympians are ready to contribute to the rebuild of a more human society, a more inclusive society.”

IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell also spoke at the General Assembly emphasising the close collaboration between the two organisations and their shared goal to ensure Olympians remain at the heart of the Olympic movement. WOA welcomed four new members to its Executive Committee following the elections.

The Executive Committee represents a diverse group of Olympians evenly distributed across every continent, with a 50 per cent split between male and female members, as written in the constitution.

New members included Executive Committee Member Americas – Salvador Enrique Salguero Goodall (El Salvador); Executive Committee Member Americas – Aliann Pompey (Guyana); Executive Committee Member Africa – Abeer Essawi (Egypt); Executive Committee Member Europe – Igor Boraska (Croatia).

Existing members who retained their positions following the elections were WOA President – Joël Bouzou (France) WOA Secretary General – Anthony Ledgard Grimm (Peru) WOA Treasurer – Patrick Singleton (Bermuda) Executive Committee Member Asia – Mikako Kotani (Japan) Executive Committee Member Asia – Malav Shroff (India) Executive Committee Member Africa – El Hadji Amadou Dia Ba (Senegal) Executive Committee Member Europe – Pernilla Wiberg Bjerke (Sweden) Executive Committee Member Oceania – Natalie Cook (Australia) Executive Committee Member Oceania – Carl Probert (Fiji).

*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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