Addressing global health challenges is a team effort, says IOC President at World Health Assembly – IOC and WHO extend Cooperation Agreement until end of 2025

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The important role of sport as the “low-cost high-impact tool par excellence for public health” was highlighted by the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, as he delivered a keynote address at the 77th World Health Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva today. Delegates from all WHO Member States have come together in Switzerland for the annual World Health Assembly.

The IOC and WHO also announced today that they have extended their Cooperation Agreement, which was signed in May 2020, until the end of December 2025. Through the agreement, the IOC and WHO are demonstrating their shared commitment to both promoting healthy society through sport, in alignment with Sustainable Development Goal 3 (“Good health and well-being”), and contributing to the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

“The theme of this World Health Assembly – ‘All for Health, Health for All’ – is a timely call for collective action. Addressing global health challenges is a team effort. The world of sport is ready to be a part of this team to build healthy and resilient communities everywhere,” IOC President Bach said.

He continued: “Speaking under the supervision of my friend Dr Tedros, I for once will dare to suggest a humble addition to your well-selected theme today: ‘All for Health, Health for All… Sport for All’.”

During his address, the IOC President stressed the strong collaboration between the IOC and WHO, and reiterated his appreciation to everyone at WHO, particularly Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, for their guidance, reassurance and support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I fully endorse President Bach’s remarks on our partnership: you have said it all,” said Dr Tedros. “Since we signed our MoU a few years ago, the partnership between WHO and the IOC has grown significantly, so thank you for your leadership, President Bach.”

Unprecedented Olympic Games delivery

“The pandemic made it crystal clear how important sport is for our physical and mental health. Sport can save lives,” the IOC President said.

“Obesity, cardiovascular predispositions and other non-communicable diseases were the reason for the vast majority of mortality during the pandemic. For all these diseases and predispositions, sport is an excellent tool for prevention. This is precisely what WHO and the IOC addressed through our joint campaigns like ‘Healthy Together’ and ‘Let’s Move’ – getting millions of people to stay strong and active when life as we knew it ground to a halt,” Bach explained.

President Bach also mentioned how the IOC and WHO took their cooperation to “a new level” when it came to organising two editions of the Olympic Games during the pandemic.

“It is no exaggeration to say that without WHO, and in particular without our great friend Dr Tedros, the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 would not have taken place in a safe way,” the IOC President said. “Thanks to the comprehensive countermeasures and vaccination programmes that we developed together with WHO, we could make these Olympic Games safe for everyone – and without a single recorded transmission from the participants to host communities.” Following the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the IOC awarded Dr Tedros the Olympic Order, and honoured WHO, as an organisation, with the Olympic Cup for 2021.

Let’s Move campaign to be relaunched ahead of Paris 2024

Following the success of Let’s Move, which was launched on Olympic Day 2023 and inspired more than 15 million people to embrace the joy of movement and active healthy lifestyles, the campaign will be launched again in June ahead of the Olympic Games Paris 2024 , with the high point on Olympic Day on 23 June. This year’s campaign, the theme of which is “Let’s Move and Celebrate”, will encourage people around the world to “warm up” for the Olympic Games and share their own “celebration moves” to inspire and support their favourite athletes on the road to Paris 2024. 

The campaign video highlighting the impressive activations that took place last year was shown to the World Health Assembly participants, with President Bach calling it “one example of the power of the collaboration between WHO and the IOC”.

Bach continued: “When our next ‘Let’s Move’ campaign kicks off on Olympic Day, on 23 June, we will once again inspire people to move for health, getting millions of people around the globe to warm up for the Olympic Games and celebrate the joy of sport.”

Paris 2024: making an impact by getting children moving more at school

President Bach reiterated the IOC’s commitment to put sport at the service of society through the organisation of the Olympic Games. “We know that we have to bring the health benefits of sport to where the people are – this means at the grassroots level, in local communities everywhere. The Olympic Games Paris 2024 will demonstrate this in a spectacular way,” he said.

The IOC President referred to the programme that has introduced 30 minutes of daily exercise into primary schools throughout France and which is on track to reach more than four million children.

“Paris 2024 is promoting sport and physical activity in over 4,000 municipalities across France. All these efforts to bring sport to where the people are will culminate with the Marathon Pour Tous, the Mass-Participation Marathon, when over 40,000 people will run the same marathon route just hours before the Olympic athletes,” Bach highlighted.

“But Paris is only the most visible aspect of our mission to make the world a better place through sport. Through our partnership with WHO, we are going to communities everywhere around the globe, bringing sport to everyone.”

The IOC and WHO: a strong collaboration

The IOC and WHO have enjoyed a longstanding partnership since 1984, leading to numerous joint initiatives to fight physical inactivity through sport. In November 2022, as part of their Cooperation Agreement, the two organisations launched a three-year cooperation programme aiming to strengthen the role of sport in building healthy and active communities at international, regional and national level. 

“Since then, our partnership has continued to go from strength to strength,” President Bach told the World Health Assembly. “We continue to make sport available as the low-cost high-impact tool par excellence for public health.”

The IOC President mentioned the Community Sport and Health Cooperation initiative, delivered by the IOC and WHO with international health non-governmental organisation PATH, as an example of how the organisations are pioneering new ways of cooperating at grassroots level, bringing together the expertise of both local health authorities and sports organisations.

“Our aim is to facilitate access to community sports activities for over one million people,” President Bach continued. “As part of this joint initiative, we are training coaches, teachers and community health workers from 500 organisations. We are doing so through innovative partnerships between National Olympic Committees, local health authorities and sports organisations at community level.

“This is why I would like to encourage you, not to say urge you, to replicate this model of cooperation in your countries. Engage with your National Olympic Committee and your local sports organisations to integrate the low-cost high-impact tool of sport into your healthcare and education systems.”

About the World Health Assembly

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO. It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the WHO Executive Board. The 77th edition of the annual World Health Assembly is taking place in Geneva from 27 May to 1 June, and this year’s theme is: All for Health, Health for All.

The full speech by the IOC President can be found here.

Credit: IOC

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