The reunion of The World Games family: In the Interview of the Month, IWGA President José Perurena looks back to the eleventh edition of the multisport event in Birmingham, USA and confesses that he is very, very happy.
Just over 40 days have passed since the closing ceremony at The World Games 2022. Which impressions are still particularly fresh?
José Perurena: I can say there are very, very many images. When the Ukraine team entered at the opening ceremony and all the spectators in the stadium rose for a standing ovation – that was a really moving moment. I also often think of how the spectators crowded around the venue Sloss Furnace, a former ironworks, to watch the competitions in Breaking, Parkour or Sport Climbing. In general, the organisers in Birmingham provided perfect competition venues for our athletes. But what I remember most were the conversations with our athletes. They were very, very positive. By the way, our Head of Communications Anna Jacobson regularly refreshes these memories.
In what way?
José Perurena: She keeps sending us pictures of athletes who have had our logo tattooed on their skin. This is an indication of the enthusiasm of the athletes from 99 countries who were at the Games in Birmingham. For a few days, the city was indeed ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ for them. IOC President Thomas Bach also felt this during his visit to The World Games. He said, “We are happy when the athletes are happy.” I can say for us as IWGA: we are very, very happy. And that is not just our impression. Gaston Parage said at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the International Powerlifting Federation, one of our founding members: ‘In the past, his federation had to promote the fact that the best athletes compete at The World Games. Now it is the other way round: the athletes are desperate to compete and fight hard in the qualifying competitions to get to be at the Games.
What, for you, were the special characteristics of The World Games 2022?
José Perurena: I would like to refer back to what I said in my speech at the closing ceremony: it was the ‘comeback Games’ and the reunion of The World Games family. After the pandemic – and we also had to postpone for a year – the joy was palpable: to finally be able to compete again and to finally be able to show your extraordinary talent in front of spectators again. This enthusiasm about the reunion and the return to the venues could be felt everywhere. Certainly not quite as emotional, but also very important was that we introduced a number of ‘first times’. They may not have been so noticeable this time, but I am convinced that they will be of enormous importance for the future of our event and sport in general.
Can you give us some examples?
José Perurena: The World Games Plaza with a cultural programme has been an integral part of our event for more than two decades. In Birmingham, together with the local organiser, we offered The World Games Garden. Spectators and guests could try out our sports there for themselves, or experience first-hand on stage how fascinating and inspiring our disciplines are. We had also set up an e-Gaming pavilion in the immediate vicinity of a competition venue. Archery, Baseball and Racquetball presented the virtual versions of their sports there and also invited people to join in. I see eGaming as a complementary offer to sport at the competition venues. We want to develop this offer further with our federations in the future. I think in Chengdu, China, where we will host the Games in 2025, you will already see that we have reached the next level in this area.
You also had a para-sport in the programme for the first time with Wheelchair Rugby. What is your assessment of this?
José Perurena: Inclusion is one of our principles. It is crucial that we talk about real inclusion. Wheelchair Rugby was part of the official programme; the teams got the same medals as all the other athletes. Their tournament was integrated into the schedule in the normal way. Again, I am talking about a beginning. In 2025, when we first follow the rules of our strategy paper ‘Growth Beyond Excellence’, there will be a fixed quota of 200 athletes from para-sport. What was also new in 2022: the invitational sports no longer had separate medal standings. The disciplines that come into the programme via the Host City, IOC and IPC are as official as all the others.
Are there other developments that you classify more as ‘Behind the Scenes’?
José Perurena: I would like to mention two topics. During the Games, we signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with four National Sport Organisations (NSOs) and agreed on closer cooperation. In addition, Joachim Gossow, IWGA CEO, and Guillaume Felli, IWGA Head of Projects, held talks with numerous NSOs and National Olympic Committees (NOCs). These included the NOCs of the People’s Republic of China, Korea, Belgium, France, Mexico, the Netherlands and Colombia. Representatives from a total of around 30 NOC/NSOs were present. Significantly more than in Wroclaw, Poland, where there were just under 20. What has become known in the meantime is that many of our disciplines have the quality to become part of the Olympic Games. Paris 2024 is a good example: Breaking inspired the spectators in Birmingham, and I’m sure it will be no different in two years’ time. There are also seven sports on the shortlist as invitation sports for Los Angeles 2028 which were a part of the TWG 2022 programme. These do not include roller sports, Surfing and Sport Climbing, whose federations are IWGA members and in the Olympics in Paris. The NOCs and NSOs have recognized that developing athletes in our sports means investing in the future.
You mention two issues. What is the other?
José Perurena: Before Birmingham, we started to standardise our procedures in many areas. This makes it easier for the organisers: they can use tried and tested operations in their preparations and only have to adapt them to the different local conditions. We make concrete specifications on the number of athletes and how we will proceed in the selection of sports and disciplines. With our IGMS, our internal Games Management System, we have a database that makes all information about The World Games available to the participating federations, service partners and organisers quickly and clearly. In addition, we are now bringing in permanent partners as service providers: ISB is our host broadcaster and Swiss Timing is our timekeeper. This agreement is already part of the Organiser Agreement and part of the fee we receive. This means that a local organiser can be sure that two very important working areas are covered in the preparation and execution of the Games.
The Birmingham Games are hardly over, but you are already talking a lot about Chengdu 2025. What lessons will you take to China?
José Perurena: The preparations for 2025 are already underway and that is a good thing. One must not forget that it is less than three years until we see The World Games family again, in Chengdu on 7th August 2025. Before then, there is a lot to do. I don’t want to go into detail here about what we have learnt from this year. We have commissioned the company Quantum to evaluate the Games for us in all areas. This includes our own media evaluation, which we will obtain through our partner IRIS. The aim is to determine the significance of streaming offers, for example via the Olympic Channel or the platforms in the area of social media, for our Games. We will also include our member federations, and the evaluations that we ourselves and the local organiser have carried out or are currently working on. I think that by the end of November or the beginning of December we will have an overview based on facts, and then we can also talk very concretely about what we have learnt. But this does not mean that we will be sitting back until then! We said we are already planning for 2025. One of the tasks will be to give our federations the opportunity to apply for being on the programme.
What does that mean?
José Perurena: We are now in a similar situation with the programme as Gaston Parage mentioned regarding his athletes in Powerlifting. The places are limited. At the same time, there is a growing interest from the federations to be considered. This is true for IFs who have been part of our family for a long time. It is also and especially true for federations that have only been with us for a few years: in the last ten years alone, we have admitted six new member federations. Now, 39 IFs belong to the IWGA. However we cannot consider all sports and certainly not with all disciplines, we have to be selective. In return, this enables us to put together a highly attractive programme in cooperation with the local Organising Committee. I am sure that we will prove this again in Chengdu. What has become apparent is that the importance of The World Games has increased significantly. We want to capitalise on this and use this success to further invest in our brand and in the development of our event.
What question did you miss in this interview?
José Perurena: The question of who we have to thank for this success in 2022. Certainly the Local Organising Committee with Nick Sellers as CEO and Jonathan Porter as Chairman. My thanks also go to the City of Birmingham and its Mayor Randall Woodfin. Equally, I am grateful to Jefferson County and its Commissioner Joe Knight. The County has contributed enormously to our success.
I would also like to express my appreciation to our federations. They are responsible for the competitions. Everything I know so far makes me say “well done”. Thanks goes to my Board who took a lot of responsibility. And I would like to acknowledge what our IWGA team led by Joachim Gossow did. One of our strengths is that we have a small but powerful team.
What you have to know is that we have no more than ten staff on the payroll. Most of them are not even working full-time for us. They managed an outstanding ten-day event with 34 sports, 223 medal events and over 3,500 athletes. This is only possible with experts who are really passionate about The World Games and who really give their all for the success of the Games. This commitment of the team to The World Games makes me very proud, because it shows they appreciate our event as worth all the effort.
Credit: The World Games