Raffaele Chiulli: “In this unprecedented time for sport and the wider world, we cannot lose the sight of the future“

  Raffaele Chiulli, President of GAISF and SportAccord, has been interviewed  by AIPSmedia. Established leader with a strong record of delivery in enterprise and sports administration, he is also President of the Association of IOC Recognised International Sport Federations (ARISF) – the world authority regrouping all IOC Recognised International Sport Federations – and President of the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM). Chiulli analysed the current global scenario,  fluid and uncertain, shedding light on the critical situation with positive messages and new opportunities.

The stop imposed by COVID-19  had a strong impact on global sports calendars, and it is now one of the main topics among the highest spheres of sports administration.SportAccord, World Sport & Business Summit, was among the first major international events to be cancelled due to Coronavirus.

It seems an age ago when AIPS had the pleasure to welcome you to the AIPS Sport Media Awards ceremony in February. What are your memories of that night and what can be the role of the next edition given this difficult time?
It was my pleasure to have joined sports journalists from around the world at the AIPS Sport Media Awards in Budapest. I was very much impressed by how the AIPS Awards celebrated a fantastic year of storytelling and hard-hitting sports journalism, with more than 1,700 submissions received from 125 different categories. Top-level finalists were chosen for the awards, in the areas of writing, photography, audio and video, as well as an additional category for young reporters that I appreciated very much.

For me, it was a great occasion to celebrate the best in sports reporting and journalism. In my role as President of GAISF and SportAccord, I often hear of incredible performances and stories of athletes achieving more than anyone could have thought possible. It is right that we honour these journalists, who work very hard to tell these amazing stories, and I had openly congratulated AIPS and all the nominees. It was also interesting to meet with several notable names from the Olympic and wider sports movement in attendance, including FIFA President Gianni Infantino, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, International Judo Federation President Marius Vizer, as well as Hungarian Secretary of State, Tünde Szabó, and State Secretary for Budapest and International Sport Events, Balázs Fürjes.

Former Olympic and World Champion triple jumper Jonathan Edwards hosted the event, with Hungarian swimming legend Katinka Hosszú among other guests of honour.  It was very interesting to see a number of the biggest names in journalism taking home awards, including Juan Arboleda from AFP, Suzanne Wrack from the Guardian, and Bob Hohler and Andrew Ryan from the Boston Globe. It was also heartbreaking when NBA and Olympic champion Kobe Bryant was honoured at the start of the awards ceremony.

In view of the next AIPS Sport Media Awards, we have to consider how sport is more and more rooted in communities across the globe, and how it brings people together. I am certain that sport will play a vital role in steering the recovery of the world, and AIPS will have the opportunity to highlight initiatives that allow sport to inspire and offer hope as the world emerges into its new normal.

Let us come to GAISF and SportAccord. How is this latter adjusting to the disruption caused by the cancellation of the convention?
It has been a very turbulent time so far this year in the sporting world and, yes of course, SportAccord has had to adjust its plans. Just to take a step back, our priority has always been the health and welfare of our International Sports Federations and delegates.

So, throughout the early months of this year we were in constant contact, not only with our host city partners, but also with the relevant agencies around the world to ensure we had the latest information. We are a global gatherings organiser, with delegates travelling from every part of the world, so it has always been necessary to adopt a world-wide outlook when planning for our events.

Covid-19 has obviously created an extremely unfortunate situation and we are saddened that our community was not able to come together for the usual great annual gathering.

But we have been informing everyone – all our stakeholders, speakers, partners, exhibitors, and delegates – of significant developments at the earliest possible opportunity so they were able to adjust their plans accordingly. And that is exactly what we did.

However, in these uncertain times for the wider sport and business community, we have benefitted from our fortunate position of being a well-established and experienced organisation since the very first SportAccord event back in 2003. We also have an extraordinarily strong reputation and trusted partners and stakeholders.

We organise events that takes place in different cities every year, and there is always significant global interest in becoming a SportAccord host city. We established a very encouraging pipeline by announcing Ekaterinburg in Russia as the host of the SportAccord World Sport and Business Summit in 2021.

So, as regrettable as it was to accept that SportAccord would not be able to take place in 2020, even before the current situation emerged, we were already working with the Local Organising Committee in Ekaterinburg and Russia towards an outstanding SportAccord in 2021.

Having embraced remote working in line with most organisations and countries for nearly three months, I would say that the key adjustments SportAccord has made in an operational sense have been very efficient and successful. We have been able to accelerate discussions and preparations surrounding SportAccord in 2021 to ensure it will be an even better event than the great one we are expecting.

Ahead of SportAccord 2021, there is also the International Federation (IF) Forum scheduled for November 2020 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Preparations for this are going extremely well and it is always an excellent event to bring together IFs and experts from all over the world.

This year, among the topics that will be discussed, it is worth remembering that we will have the opportunity to reflect on the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games, which took place in the same city of Lausanne earlier this year.

What new challenges and standards do you have to account for as you plan for a large meeting like SportAccord?
In the context of the Covid-19, we will continue to be guided by expert advice from the local organising committees and hosting authorities, as well as international health agencies such as WHO. We are well aware that as lockdowns are lifted worldwide there will be transitional phases when certain restrictions will be eased, and we are monitoring those closely.  At the moment it is a very fluid and changeable situation, but hopefully there will soon be more certainty about how we can move on in everyday life, and not just when we attend large events like SportAccord.

In terms of other challenges and standards, aside from the situation we find ourselves in this year, all the people behind SportAccord are always keen to innovate and increase the value proposition of our annual World Sport and Business Summit.

There is always a strong focus on exploring and adding new features, attractions, and initiatives every year to keep things nice and fresh for returning delegates – so their engagement and experience improves year after year – as well as attracting new participants.

I think that is part of the success of SportAccord. It has not been afraid to change and tackle new topics and areas over the years and it has really positioned itself as the natural place to discuss, debate and promote the most interesting and forward-thinking ideas in international sport and related business.

SportAccord is the place where all the International Sports Federations come together. There are numerous annual assemblies as well as the conferences, exhibition and social events, and key partnerships have been forged over the years – for example between International Sports Federations and cities and regions who are exhibiting. Therefore, we are obviously keen to maintain these key aspects of SportAccord.

Plans for the 2021 meeting in Russia… How are they developing? What will be done to facilitate travel to Ekaterinburg, given the current situation with international travel? 
Plans are progressing extremely well. We have been in very regular contact with our host city partners in Ekaterinburg since late last year, and we have been able to accelerate preparations ahead of the event with constant dialogue.

We decided to launch registration at the end of April, and we have had a very encouraging response. There is just over a year to go before the event takes place so, on top of this initial burst of interest, there will also be a big increase in those registering for the event over the coming months. We are already working hard on the various parts of the conference programme, and the exhibition space will be truly excellent in Ekaterinburg. It will be a real hub in the heart of a wonderful city.

The Exhibition floor plan has already been fine-tuned with a larger café than ever before to encourage more networking, and the meeting rooms will circle above the exhibition, ensuring it is an effective and nice event. We will launch the exhibition sales process shortly and we are anticipating a high level of interest as this is an event the sports industry will not want to miss.

Ekaterinburg as a location bridges the Western world and the east, so it is ideally positioned to bring people together from across the sporting world and build bridges through open and constructive dialogue. The city has become an increasingly important destination in Russia for tourism, business and sport, and has an expanding influence in the sporting landscape. It has also recently hosted top-tier international events in football and boxing and will host global championships in volleyball and university sports in the coming years.

We were always confident that SportAccord 2021 would be an outstanding event. But it will now take on extra significance for everyone gathering in the wonderful Russian city of Ekaterinburg after the issues that have faced sport and the wider world in 2020. By announcing the host city agreement with Ekaterinburg for SportAccord 2021, back in November 2019, we ensured that there would be plenty of time ahead of the event to make arrangements regarding travel.

SportAccord has taken place in Russia on two previous occasions, and we have always had outstanding support from our partners and the relevant authorities regarding travel and logistics in the country on a local, regional and national level.

Of course, international travel arrangements are currently in a state of fluidity, so we are monitoring the situation very closely. But we would hope and expect that, with restrictions set to ease in the coming months, when SportAccord 2021 does take place the potential for any disruption will be minimised for our delegates and stakeholders travelling from around the world. Although, with everything going on now it is easy to focus on short-term challenges, so it is worth remembering that we are still a year away from the event.

Are you considering any theme or message from the 2021 convention?
SportAccord 2021 will ideally represent a reunification of the international sporting community after the whole Olympic Movement was put on hold for much of 2020.

In terms of key themes, those will be announced in due course and are being discussed through the steering committees which include representatives of all key stakeholder groups, such as the IOC, GAISF, ASOIF, AIOWF, ARISF and AIMS, with valuable input also from our hosts.

Our different conference streams are CityAccord, HealthAccord, LawAccord, MediaAccord, InvestAccord and the SportAccord Summit main programme.

The conference programme will be designed to cover many different vital aspects of sport and sport business in a way that is relevant for all our attendees. We are looking at the overall structure of our conference programme to ensure the right topics are covered in the most productive and enjoyable way possible.

There will of course be discussions about how and what sport can learn from the crisis of 2020 to ensure it is in a stronger position for the future. All the vital pillars that strengthen sport are important, as sport is an incredible force for good. I think sport will play a fundamental role in giving people hope as the world recovers from the difficulties that have occurred in 2020.

Of course, there will be other topics that will inevitably arise. Our event in Ekaterinburg will start exactly two months before the Summer Olympic Games get underway in Tokyo, and that will be a huge celebration of sport for humanity after the turbulence of 2020.

Also, one of the most interesting aspects of the international sports industry is how it changes. Every year, we discuss new developments, projects, initiatives and innovations at SportAccord and, as you can imagine, there will be even more to discuss and debate after a one-year gap. There will be “significant changes” to be debated within each of our conference programme streams.

To give you an example of how SportAccord continues to evolve, InvestAccord will be a brand-new conference stream. InvestAccord will be dedicated to exploring financial issues and investment opportunities, new partners and sponsors, challenges and best practice strategies in sport.

We have all seen how sport is embedded in communities across the globe, and how it brings people together, so I am sure sport will play a vital role in steering the recovery of the world.

SportAccord is built on the principles of unity and friendship, and at SportAccord 2021, we will have the opportunity to discuss proposals that will allow sport to inspire and offer hope as the world gets back to its new normal.

Any thoughts about SportAccord beyond 2021? Where would you like to see the events staged?
We are in discussions with several impressive prospective hosts for future editions of SportAccord. We have proved our global outlook by staging our three most recent editions of the World Sport and Business Summit across three different continents, and you can add a fourth continent with the inaugural Regional SportAccord Pan America that took place in December 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

SportAccord is a true global connector. There are so many opportunities at SportAccord; the chance to meet, engage and collaborate with stakeholders from across the sports landscape. There really is not any other event like this, so it is easy to see why lots of different locations worldwide are interested in staging SportAccord events.

I would not want to pre-empt any decisions. Each host city is very carefully selected according to various criteria and following a thorough process. But the long-term future of SportAccord is looking extremely healthy. There is a great portfolio of countries and cities interested in hosting future editions of SportAccord and our mission will continue to be to bring the sporting world together in inspirational places.

From your point of view as a sport Federation leader, your observations about the absence of sport events? How can the sporting world survive these three month-long freezes? What big the damage is?
First, on behalf of the entire GAISF family, I would like to share my concern and best wishes for athletes, families, colleagues and for everyone who has been affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Clearly, international sport has come to a stop for now, and many events have been postponed while others have unfortunately been cancelled completely. There are some common challenges: lack of access to training facilities, athlete mental health, anti-doping, travel restrictions and so forth.

Therefore, it is more important than ever that GAISF does its job of sharing key lessons, and shining a spotlight on best practice. Recently, some of the greatest pole vault athletes competed against one another from their own back gardens in the World Athletics #UltimateGardenClash. World Taekwondo launched the digital campaign #KickingItAtHome to show how fighters are coping with the global situation. Still, World Archery launched the first remote archery competition “Lockdown Knockdown”.

Of course, these are just a few examples of some of the incredible initiatives and projects that International Federations have created during this time to keep fans entertained and engaged. It is very encouraging to see that our community is united behind the common goal of utilising the power of sport as a symbol of positivity, hope and unity.

This is an extremely challenging time for everyone, but sport has shown remarkable resilience. Athletes are still an inspirational example for all of us. In many cases, we have seen International Federations demonstrate great imagination by creating innovative projects during the lockdown in coordination with their athletes.

Meanwhile, International Federations have created virtual competitions where fans can also get involved, such as the International Chess Federation’s Checkmate Coronavirus initiative where they have organised over 2,000 online tournaments for players no matter their age, nationality or level. It is beautiful to see all of this creativity come to the forefront during these difficult times, and I am sure sport has continued to inspire many.

This pandemic has also accelerated the work of our Members in regard to esports, and I think this is something we will continue to work on together as we encourage and find new ways of drawing people into sport.

We have seen that, with competitive and professional sport, it is not a question of whether they survive. Clearly, they have survived. We have already seen this with national leagues such as the Bundesliga which returned just under one month ago. In other countries, leagues in a variety of sports are also making their plans for the safe return of sport.

In terms of any damage in the longer-term, it is too early to say. But I believe that sport is resilient and will continue to do all that it can to keep people in good shape and in good spirit. We have all seen how sport is embedded in communities across the globe, and how it brings people together, so I am sure sport will play a vital role in steering the recovery of the world. In the meantime, GAISF is working alongside the IOC and all our Members to help mitigate any damage. We will continue everything in our capacity to help.

Having several major sport events postponed for later, how can be reorganized next year’s international and global sporting schedule?
There is an ongoing process and open discussions among the key stakeholders to ensure that the global sports calendar remains as harmonious as possible. This has been working very well as International Federations continue to reschedule events considering the current situation. From big events to small events, everyone has been considerate of each other’s needs when deciding on new dates for events, and respectful of the athletes we are working to serve.

For example, the International Swimming Federation (FINA), the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) and World Athletics have all moved prestigious world championship events to 2022, in view of the sports calendar.

In the meantime, we took all the appropriate steps to ensure that the GAISF staff who serve you can work remotely and support their respective national government’s efforts to contain COVID-19. Despite the disruption, please rest assured that GAISF will continue to work as hard as we possibly can to keep moving forward and will ensure an effective transition for when the situation improves.

Finally, it goes without saying that GAISF will keep in regular contact with all our Members during this difficult period, and we remain available to assist you wherever possible. I can assure you that we will continue to adhere to the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), observe governmental instructions and spare no efforts to respect all measures that are being put in place by the authorities to avoid a resurge of the epidemic.

Do you think about sport-related tourism will decrease by the fear of fans, or the economic difficulties of the organizers, or on the contrary, will there be a competition for hosting international sport events, that can generate touristic interest to a host city?
I believe that tourism will come back strongly in the future, and sport will play an important role in helping to promote this as well. Already, many countries have confirmed that they will welcome foreign tourists from mid-June onwards, ending their quarantine policy. I believe this shows that countries are ready to welcome people if it is safe to do so.
I know there is a strong appetite worldwide for international competition to resume and for cities wanting to host events. As always, this should only be done if the health and wellbeing of all participants can be ensured.
Having said all this, I am a believer in looking at the positives in all situations, and I feel that the positive impact this situation has had on our environment should continue to be considered. Hopefully, organisations will continue to think carefully about how to reduce their global footprint to protect our planet and its environment. We see many of our members moving to online meetings and I think many of these meetings will continue to take place online for some time to come.

For international federations… How will this medical crisis and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics bring changes to the federations?
Firstly, I fully appreciate how significant a task it is to reorganise the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games for next year. However, working together, I believe that these Games will be an incredible celebration of the whole of humanity in their resilience in the face of the coronavirus crisis. GAISF looks forward to working with the IOC, the IPC, International Federations and Tokyo 2020, to ensure that athletes and their respective sports all have their moment to shine in 2021.

At this current point in time, it is premature to talk about the post-coronavirus era. However, when it is safe to do so, the return of sport will present an opportunity for the sport community to renew our focus. It will serve as a reminder of what is important to us. Sport will be more resilient and more united than ever before.

In the meantime, the global sports community continues to look towards next year’s Olympic Games as a symbol of hope in these dark times. And I see the clouds beginning to lift as local sport begins to start up again and restrictions are eased in places – this, I am sure, brings hope and joy to the entire sports community.

After the very successful inaugural edition what about next year World Urban Games? Can we announce something official from the GAISF side regarding this event?
Based on both GAISF’s and my own personal experience, Budapest was an exceptionally capable sports events host. I have no doubt that in the future more incredible events, both large and small, will be hosted in the beautiful city of Budapest. Last September, Budapest hosted the inaugural World Urban Games with competitions, showcase sports and a comprehensive variety of demonstrations from the worlds of music, art and sport. In addition, the World Urban Games Park was transformed into a celebration of active urban culture.

During the three-day event, more than 50,000 people filled the Park to watch some of the world’s best urban athletes push their sports to new heights. Young people and adults alike took advantage of our practice areas, providing opportunities for the public to try new activities.

Many children from local schools had the opportunity to try out new sporting activities under the guidance of elite athletes. This left them with a new-found inspiration for urban sport after first-hand interactions with their role models.

Sport was of course the center piece of the games, but the link to street art and live DJs gave the event an authentic urban vibe that bound the event together and showed us that sport is more than competition, it is a lifestyle. It was also a very progressive multi-sport event which was proud to promote gender equality. There was an equal number of athletes from each gender, and equal prize money across all sports, and this is something that we will look to continue at future editions.

We are delighted to have had such great feedback from the International Federations, the media and the athletes themselves. I would like to thank the Budapest Local Organising Committee, who did an outstanding job from start to finish in hosting an unforgettable Games. We are now taking the time to debrief and collect all feedback, so that we can implement these key findings when it comes to looking ahead to the next edition of the World Urban Games.

Of course, there have been conversations with Budapest, and if GAISF and the World Urban Games have the opportunity to go back, then we would be very happy.

AIPS is constantly monitoring the worrying situation regarding sports journalists around the world after the sanitary and financial crisis due to Covid-19? How do you think sports federations and the sports media sector should work synergistically to cope with this unprecedented situation of danger?
GAISF and SportAccord stand in solidarity with everyone affected by the pandemic, and we will do all that we can to work together towards a bright future for sport.

This is an unprecedented time for sport, sport journalists and the wider world, but we cannot lose sight of the future. I am confident that next year we will jointly celebrate sport journalism and incredible storytelling at the AIPS Awards.

Finally, let me say that we must all play our part to ensure we come through this together. Unity, altruism, and understanding are values that are key characteristics of a successful team. Now, more than ever, let us work as a team!

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