FEI Sports Forum examines ways to help athletes

Lausanne, April 08, 2013: Dual career: preparing athletes for the workplace after their competitive career was the second topic on the agenda of the FEI Sports Forum 2013. Experts from the sports, business and academic worlds, as well as elite international athletes, spoke about their experiences and gave interesting examples of best practice in this area.

“Is there life after sport?” FEI President HRH Princess Haya asked in her opening address.

“The increasing professionalization of sport requires athletes to dedicate most of their time to training and competition. Often at an age where others are starting their professional education, athletes face the problem of combining intense training and competition with professional education,” she commented. “Society, as well as any responsible sports organization, should enable its athletes to safeguard their future during their sports careers by providing them with opportunities to qualify for the job market.”

Although equestrian sport is more privileged than some other sports, as there is a whole industry offering employment, there are persistent challenges.

Princess Haya described some of the actions the FEI can undertake to help its athletes make the transition from the competitive world to a successful professional career.

“We can cooperate closely with the IOC within its IOC Athlete Career Programme, which includes Olympic Movement, National Olympic Committees, International Federations and National Federations,” she explained.

“We can generate awareness among our own athletes of the need for a professional education. We can stimulate cooperation between the sport and the horse sector. We can provide our athletes with extensive information on professional education opportunities worldwide. We can – in cooperation with national entities – provide guidance and information for athletes on employment opportunities. We can provide advice to National Federations on creating a national network of sport organizations, education institutions, employment representatives, health and financial authorities. And finally, we can offer our athletes flexible tools, such as online education, for accessing educational training.

“We, as the FEI, really hope that, one day, former equestrian athletes will serve us or the wider sport. It is therefore in our interest to create a ‘home-grown’ future generation of world-class FEI leaders and administrators who know our sport,” Princess Haya concluded.

Dr Harald Müller, FEI Executive Director Education and Standards, presented a new FEI online education project which will be providing the equestrian community with exciting online training opportunities. This new platform – FEI Campus – will make the FEI the first Olympic sports organisation introducing professional online education for its stakeholders. This flexible tool will also provide support to the FEI Solidarity programmes.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board member and chair of the IOC Athletes Commission Claudia Bokel (GER) presented the IOC Athlete Career Programme (ACP), launched in 2005 and renewed in 2012 through to 2020. The programme is offered by the IOC and the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) in co-operation with Adecco, the world’s largest provider of solutions in human resources.

The IOC Athlete Career Programme assists Olympic athletes in making the transition from the field of play to the labour market, as well as companies looking to hire employees that will make a difference in their workforce. The ACP offers an integrated approach of combining sport and education, life skills and employment opportunities.

Since the creation of the programme, 32 National Olympic Committees on five continents have joined with the IOC and Adecco. By the end of 2012, outreach programmes had supported more than 10,000 athletes from over 100 countries with training opportunities and job placements.

Maury Peiperl (USA), Professor of Leadership and Strategic Change at IMD business school, made a lively presentation on the subject of managing career transitions. He identified different career paths and outlined their specific characteristics. He highlighted the fact that linear career development is no longer the norm and that radical professional changes are more frequent. The business world is gradually becoming receptive to individuals such as athletes who come from non-traditional backgrounds and have been able to make bold career decisions.

Thomas Batliner (LIE), former Olympic Jumping rider and investment consultant, and Sergei Aschwanden (SUI), judo bronze medallist in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, spoke of their experiences as elite athletes who have successfully transitioned into the business and academic worlds. The key roles of preparing the transition and the athletes’ entourage were emphasised.

The panellists agreed that one of the biggest challenges facing athletes today was the lack of information about the tools facilitating career change. They stressed the importance of sports organizations getting closer to their athletes – in-person at events and seminars or through social media – to understand their needs and create interest and motivation.

Delegates raised questions on different challenges such as the lack of motivation, the prospect of having a lengthy career as an equestrian athlete, or the possibility of failing at both sport and studies if neither were a priority.

Claudia Bokel summarized the answers in one. “It is important to secure a basis for a new career even if it takes many years,” she said. “And of course you have to be realistic about what you want to achieve. But don’t contemplate failure, don’t take away the dreams!” —- FEI

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