What are your feelings looking back on 2022?
José Perurena: I would like to say there are only good feelings, but unfortunately that is not true. The war in Ukraine, which Russia started, brought a lot of suffering to the people, not only in Ukraine. It also had an impact on sport and our event. Nevertheless, for us as IWGA, for more than 3,400 athletes from 99 countries and for more than 200,000 people in Birmingham, Alabama, The World Games 2022 were the highlight this year. I still remember the happy faces of the athletes who enjoyed the hospitality of the people of Alabama and the simple joy of finally being able to compete in front of a crowd again. The time in Birmingham was truly a reunion of The World Games Family and a comeback for the Games.
Your TWG moment?
José Perurena: There were many, many and I can't even list them all. Maybe I'll tell you about my first emotional moment at The World Games 2022. When the athletes and officials from Ukraine came into the stadium and the spectators gave them a spontaneous standing ovation, that touched me very much. I saw many people cry with emotion; I will not forget this moment for the whole of my life.
You keep coming back to the topic of Ukraine...
José Perurena: Yes, because the war, as I said, had an impact on sport. The athletes from Russia and Belarus, for example, could not take part in The World Games in Birmingham. It was necessary to make this decision, but we didn't like making it. Our motto is: the athletes are on centre stage. Suddenly we were forced to put politics in the centre. We did not like that. What we also saw was the solidarity and willingness to help in the world of sport. We as the IWGA already handed over a substantial donation for the reconstruction of sports facilities to the Ukraine Sports Committee in March. Our member federations have followed suit. Sergey Bubka, the Chairman of the Ukrainian NOC, was able to receive a cheque for 54,000 dollars in Birmingham. The Organising Committee had donated one euro from every ticket sold.
Back to sport, how do you see the eleventh edition of The World Games from a distance of almost six months?
José Perurena: I see it as a great success and above all as an important step forward. At the AGM, we adopted our strategy paper "Growth Beyond Excellence". This gave us a direction for the development of our event. We have already implemented many of the guidelines from this strategy in Birmingham. Wheelchair Rugby was on the programme in the USA: for the first time we have integrated a para sport into our event. The federation has now also expressed interest in being part of the event in Chengdu in 2025. In Birmingham, for the first time, invitational sports were no longer presented separately but were also part of the official programme. The evaluation of the Games included a Sustainability Report for the first time. We have almost achieved gender equality. In a way, Birmingham was the start of the implementation of our strategy for the future. “Growth Beyond Excellence” is not only written on paper, we are now living it.
How much are you already looking ahead?
José Perurena: We have to look ahead. The Birmingham Games took place a year later than planned because of the pandemic. This means we have one year less to prepare for the twelfth edition of our event in Chengdu, Peoples Republic of China. While we are still evaluating the event in the summer, we have already asked our federations to apply for the programme in three years’ time. We have made efforts to engage more NOCs and NSOs and get them to agree to recognize The World Games as the most important multi-sport event after the Olympic Games. This is also in the interest of the national sports federations. Many of our disciplines are now on the Olympic programme. Those who promote the athletes who compete with us also increase their chances of winning Olympic medals. The Belgian NOC has been following this strategy for a long time. Coincidence or not, Speedskater Bart Swings was the first athlete to win gold at both the Olympic Games and The World Games in one year.
Does this mean that 2022 and the TWG 2022 are already history for you?
José Perurena: Not really. In January, we will select the IWGA Athlete of the Year and the IWGA Team of the Year via online voting. The voting will give TWG athletes a big stage. The Games are not yet history. Rather, they are part of our ongoing family story that we will continue to tell in Chengdu.
Is there a question you would like to answer, although it has not been asked?
José Perurena: The question is: what am I grateful for in 2022? And my answer is: for a great event in Birmingham. Above all, I am grateful to the people who made it possible. Above all, our athletes. The officials from our federations also contributed immensely. I would like to mention the Birmingham Organizing Committee with Jonathan Porter at the helm, and in particular Mayor Randall Woodfin for his personal involvement in the Games. In general, my appreciation goes to the people of the city for our time in Sweet Home Alabama. I am grateful for the cooperation on our Board. Last but not least, my thanks go to our IWGA Staff. We are a very small team, led by our CEO Joachim Gossow. This team does a lot and has contributed significantly to the success of the Games in 2022. What is crucial is that The World Games are not just a job for them. Everyone is truly dedicated to success. That is inspiring.
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association, organised with the support of the International Olympic Committee. The World Games 2022 was held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from 34 sports and 100 countries took part in the Games. The 12th edition of The World Games will be held in Chengdu, CHN in 2025.