The year 2020 was a historic one for the International World Games Association, as the organization celebrated its 40th anniversary. In the Interview of the Month, IWGA President José Perurena tells of what lessons he has learned for the future.
The year 2020 posed great challenges for the IWGA and for yourself. What were the biggest?
José Perurena: It was by far the most challenging year in the forty-year history of the IWGA. On the 21st of May, we wanted to celebrate our anniversary, but it turned out we did not have much time to look back; we had the current demands of the Covid-19 pandemic to deal with. And yes, it was also a year for me personally that will be remembered forever. The stay in hospital during my Covid-19 illness was, to put it mildly, unsettling. I am all the more grateful to have beaten the virus and to have been able to do my work for the IWGA again in the months since then.
How did the IWGA cope with the demands?
José Perurena: I can say: more than just good. I am grateful to my board members, our staff, our member federations, the host city Birmingham in Alabama, our partners and also the IOC. We worked as a real team. That deserves the highest respect. Within two weeks in April, we created the conditions to move our event to 2022. That was a feat of strength, and we managed it without greater hiccup. It's important to remember that there was no precedent in our history for such a postponement.
Another positive experience was how well our Annual General Meeting (AGM) worked as a virtual meeting. We received a lot of positive feedback from our member federations. When you consider that we discussed our strategy paper ‘Growth Beyond Excellence’ and adapted our Constitution accordingly, it becomes clear: we were able to make important decisions despite this new form.
Was there also good in the bad?
José Perurena: I can make a little list there, too: first, the IWGA has shown itself to be crisis- and weather-proofed. I am quite proud of that. I also appreciate the fact that our good relationships with all our partners has paid off. Another positive development is that the move to 2022 offers us new opportunities in Birmingham, Alabama. The new Protective Stadium will be ready by then and will provide a great stage for the opening and closing ceremonies. Other competition venues will have been redesigned by then, and we will benefit from being able to provide our athletes with optimal conditions for their sports. It is also positive that we can stick to our schedule for the 12th Edition of The World Games in Chengdu, China. The postponement of the Games in Birmingham has no impact on our event in 2025.
Is it even possible to look ahead, in the face of current requirements?
José Perurena: We have created the conditions for this year. For example, we have adapted our Constitution so that we can continue to hold our AGM remotely in the future if needed. Of course, we hope that the fight against the virus will allow for more normality next year. Nevertheless, it is important to be prepared for all eventualities. This is what we have done and, for example, we have adapted our communication channels. What we can probably already say with certainty is that the coming year will also present us with challenges. But what we also know is that we have shaped our structures and working methods accordingly. What I have taken away from 2020 is: no matter how difficult it gets, we will find smart solutions.
What is the significance of the new strategy paper, in your view?
José Perurena: Firstly, I would like to thank my colleagues on the board Jan Fransoo and Antonio Espinos for their outstanding work. They have developed the strategy ‘Growth Beyond Excellence’ through many discussions with our federations. The broad approval during our AGM showed clearly that the IWGA family wants to go this way in the future. The cornerstones are that we are opening up to new sports and disciplines. I expressly include para-sports in this; we want inclusion and we want to present these disciplines within our programme.
At the same time, we can achieve this without displacing our existing sports. We want to enable more athletes to start at The World Games. All the same we have limited the number of participants to 5,000; this will allow our future host cities to plan at a feasible scale. Finally, we strive for a close collaboration with the IOC. Part of this should be to become a platform to experiment with new events for potential inclusion in the programme of the Olympic Games.
What important milestones will be reached in 2021?
José Perurena: The year 2021 will be marked by qualification for TWG 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama. The corresponding competition structure is to be coordinated with our member federations. We want to set decisive milestones at the meeting of the Competition Managers and the representatives of the NOCs in the fourth quarter of 2021 in Birmingham, Alabama. There, too, all planning currently has the character of provisionality. At the beginning of the year, we will decide whether to hold our AGM remotely in the coming year as well. And not to forget that we will also intensify our cooperation with the host city for 2025, Chengdu in China.
What are your most important wishes for 2021?
José Perurena: From my own experience, I can say I wish everyone good health. This also includes my wish that the vaccination strategies of individual countries take effect as soon as possible. Also on my list is that we as The World Games family can meet again in person as soon as possible. I miss my friends in the world of sport. For our organisation as well as for all our partners, I hope that they will approach the upcoming tasks with the necessary flexibility. Finally, I wish all athletes who want to qualify for The World Games 2022 the greatest possible success.
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee. The 11th edition of The World Games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from over 30 sports and 100 countries will take part in The World Games.