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Sunday, August 23, 2020

No Holds Barred: Rob Koehler on the Boom in Athlete Activism and Sports at a Crossroads 


On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with Rob Koehler, director general of Global Athlete.

We spoke with him by phone Thursday.

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic upending sports, the massive Black Lives Matter anti-racist protests since the murder of George Floyd, the uncertainty surrounding the postponed Tokyo Olympics, and a host of other relevant issues and factors, the result in recent months has been a marked increase in activism by athletes around the world. And that, said Rob Koehler, is a good thing.

"I think we're seeing some really good stuff coming from athletes," he said. "More than ever I've seen athletes speaking up on issues. They are not taking the status quo anymore. They are standing up on issues."

More and more, athletes are forming their own independent organizations.

"We're going to see it more. And the more athletes speak up, I think the more athletes will come forward, because power in numbers makes a huge difference," he said.

"Everyone wants to see sports succeed," he noted, while pointing out what else needs to be done.

"It's time to change. We're at a real crossroads here, in terms of do we make sports look different? Do we make sports stronger? And how do we do that?" Key to that is "engaging athletes, empowering athletes to have independent collective voices."

For the future, Global Athlete has some ambitious plans.

"We're going to continue advocating and continue to work with the various athlete groups across the world that are standing up on issues," he said. "We really want to see more organizations and want to help support and assist development of more organizations like the Athletics Association, where they are operating independently. We are working with three other sports right now, athletes in three other sports, to move forward and establish a similar structure.

"So I think for us, that's the way we'd like to see things move forward, where athletes get together, they develop their own structure, and they make it a global representation on an international level. That's the way I see the future going to the mid- to short-term."

We also discussed the growing athlete opposition to the International Olympic Committee's Rule 50 which bars podium protests; why athletes are humans first and athletes second; ensuring that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is implemented and enforced in world sport; why countries with a bad human rights record should not be permitted to host international sporting events; the upcoming case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport about Russia's state-sponsored doping program and its being banned from the Olympics; how in light of the ongoing pandemic there must be a realistic roadmap for the return to training and competition in preparation for the Summer Olympics; how a cancellation of the Summer Olympics will have an adverse effect on athletes; and much, much more.

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