International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach and World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics to discuss ways to strengthen more collaboration between their two organizations.
The meeting came after the WHO Director-General ran with the Olympic flame on the day of the opening ceremony and said: “The Olympic Games are synonymous with hope, solidarity, unity and peace. Above all, let’s hope to end this pandemic. I hope that we will reach 70% vaccination in every country in the world by the middle of this year, and I hope that the acute phase of the pandemic will be over, so that people come together as always.
During the meeting, the IOC President reaffirmed the IOC’s support for this will of the WHO: “We have been given the way forward with a safe and effective vaccine that can help save precious lives”, said said Bach. “Let us all unite to provide free and equal access to the vaccine to everyone around the world to fulfill our collective responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable, because everyone on this planet has the right to live a life healthy. We are stronger together when we stand together and take care of each other.
The IOC and WHO formalized their collaboration to promote public health with a Memorandum of Understanding in 1984. The partnership has grown since then, resulting in a series of projects promoting grassroots sports and healthy lifestyles for all, and drawing on WHO’s expertise in health emergencies, mass gatherings and water quality in the context of the Olympic Games. The two organizations signed a new cooperation agreement in 2020 to strengthen and develop these dimensions.
On Olympic Day in June 2020, the IOC, WHO and the United Nations joined forces against the pandemic with the help of athletes. The United Nations (UN) co-signed Healthy Together partnership was built on the need for collective action to reduce the spread and COVID-19. The IOC helped bring this commitment to life last month by releasing a video that uses the persuasive power of athletes to encourage vaccination. More than 20 Olympians and Paralympians called on world leaders and policymakers to ensure free and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and shared the video widely on social media.
WHO experts were also involved in developing the COVID-19 countermeasures that were successfully applied last summer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, an event that has become a model for other events in large scale. The global health agency worked again with the IOC during the preparations for Beijing 2022 in the difficult context of the more transmissible Omicron variant.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how crucial sport and physical activity are for physical and mental health. The IOC has regularly called on governments around the world to include sport in their post-crisis support programs due to the important role of sport in the prevention and recovery phases.
The IOC President and the WHO Director General also discussed a series of other joint projects and closer collaboration on sport for health at future Games, starting from Paris 2024, in order to address emerging issues such as the prevalence of non-communicable diseases, which are often closely linked to unhealthy lifestyles and lack of physical activity. The WHO estimates that non-communicable diseases kill 41 million people each year and account for 71% of all deaths worldwide.