Interview with Marie Sallois Dembreville, Director Corporate and Sustainable Development, IOC

“Our mission is to both ensure the celebration of the Olympic Games and encourage the regular practice of sport by all people in society.”

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Marie Sallois Dembreville, IOC

Obesity has tripled since 1975 and non-communicable diseases are steadily increasing – health is a huge challenge for society. How can the IOC address the problem?

The promotion of health and physical activity is at the very core of the Olympic Movement’s vision of “building a better world through sport“. The sense of blending sport with culture and education to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort dates back to the founding of the Olympic Movement.

We are working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO), as well as other stakeholders in the sports community, to promote global health, particularly the prevention of non- communicable diseases (NCDs). This work includes the reduction of risk factors such as physical inactivity, alcohol and tobacco use, unhealthy diets and air pollution. We help strengthen the dialogue between the sport and health sectors at international, regional and national levels.

Each edition of the Olympic Games is required to create a lasting health legacy for its people. Beyond the two weeks of sports celebration, we collaborate closely with the Olympic Games host cities to boost the promotion of physical activity through primary health care, sports clubs
and sports venues. In addition, we work with event organisers to support the availability of healthy food at sporting events, and we have a strict smoke-free policy at the Olympic Games.

Leveraging its global reach, the IOC helps promote global health by financially supporting Sport for All initiatives undertaken by Sports Federations or other members of the sports community.

The International Olympic Committee is known for De Coubertin’s motto – “Citius, Altius, Fortius” – and for showcasing the most high-level competitions in sport during the Olympic Games. What is your vision for developing elite sport as well as grassroots sport? How do you encourage Sport for All activities?

From the very start, the Olympic Movement embodied the ideal that giving one’s best and striving for personal excellence were worthwhile goals. The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

Therefore, our mission is to both ensure the celebration of the Olympic Games and encourage the regular practice of sport by all people in society. This role has been reflected in Olympic Agenda 2020 – the strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement – and is part of a wide variety of programmes led by the IOC.

Through the 2019 Development Grant offered by the IOC Sport and Active Society Commission, the IOC is encouraging organisations that use sport as a tool for social development to apply for grants under four themes: bringing physical activity to the urban setting; engaging young people and/or senior citizens in physical activity; promoting gender equality at all levels of sport; and improving social inclusion of refugees through sport and physical activity.
The IOC has also designed a toolkit for organisations across the Olympic Movement. It provides them with the knowledge, understanding and tools needed to improve existing Sport for All programmes, and to create new ones. The IOC also supports the Global
Active City programme, which provides standards, supporting tools and training modules to help cities enhance the well- being of their residents. Another initiative, Olympic Day, which we celebrate every year on 23 June, provides National Olympic Committees with an opportunity to deploy sports, cultural and educational activities aimed at everyone regardless of age, gender, social background or sporting ability.

What role can cities play in the fight against physical inactivity?

By 2050, more than two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in cities. While urban living brings benefits and opportunities to people,
unsustainable development and poor planning of urban housing, transport and food systems pose risks that can negatively affect people’s health.

Regular physical activity helps reduce some of those risks. It can help prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, as well as a number of mental disorders. Cities have a key role to play in leveraging this potential, as they are often responsible for health and education policies that encourage people to be more active physically. Partnering with local public health experts, community engagement leaders and universities can help cities determine which groups are most at risk from inactivity and how to reach them. Cities can also enable their citizens to be more active by re-thinking the way they approach urban planning and growth.

What are some of the examples of a long- term Olympic sports and health legacy?

The Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 are an excellent example of how the Olympic Games can help promote sport and create a strong health legacy for their hosts. A total of 561 sports initiation events were organised in Buenos Aires, reaching 120,000 children. The programme has continued since the Games, promoting sports practice among children and teenagers.

Paris 2024 is already creating a health legacy for people in France. Through the programme “Bouger Plus” (Move More), Paris 2024 is working to integrate physical activity into schools, communities and businesses, targeting a variety of groups including children, women and girls, as well as those with an impairment or who are suffering from health problems. The programme includes a wide variety of activities, such as a national campaign to train parents, teachers and school personnel about the importance of physical activity; the development of a support kit to promote physical activity in communities; and the identification of legislative updates needed to enhance the promotion of physical activity in the workplace.