Ron Froehlich, IWGA President from 1992 to 2014, knows best: “We started with an ox-cart.” That’s how the Honorary Life President of the International World Games Association describes the beginning of the multi-sport event 40 years ago. “In 2022 The World Games will launch a rocket!” Nothing less is expected from the man who has served more than 35 years as a volunteer for the IWGA.
1. 40 years of IWGA - Would you describe IWGA as rather young or quite old?
The IWGA is still young, and is growing in stature with every edition. What I mean to say is that the expectations as an organiser of an outstanding multi-sport event have grown enormously, both among the international federations and the IOC. I would say that we have now really established ourselves in the world of sport and we are very well recognised.
2. What was the reason for founding the IWGA – and have the hopes of the founding fathers been fulfilled, in your opinion?
The IWGA was founded by Dr. Un Yong Kim, who at that time was also the President of Taekwondo, and with eleven other international federations decided this would be a voice for them to attempt to publicise their sports. They hoped to be included in the Olympic programme at some time. This hope has been fulfilled not only for Taekwando in the past 40 years. Just look at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo: five of our member federations are new in the programme of the Games with some of their disciplines.
3. What makes the IWGA different, and how does it differ from other umbrella organisations?
The IWGA differs from other umbrella organisers of multi-sport events in several ways. At The World Games, only the best athletes who have qualified can compete, whereas some other umbrella organisations are limited to geographical or religious participation. Furthermore the international federations, and only these IFs, decide which athletes qualify for the Games. Another difference is that we have always thought sustainably. It has always been important for us that a host city is not required to build new sports facilities for our event. Rather, The World Games offers cities an opportunity to improve their infrastructure in a sustainable way and for the benefit of their citizens.
4. What developments have the IWGA undertaken in the last 40 years?
The developments over the last 40 years have been staggering. Important milestones have been, among others, the two Memoranda of Understanding with the IOC, the first in 2000 and the second in 2016. The 7th edition of TWG in Duisburg, Germany in 2005 was certainly decisive for the development of the event. Duisburg set new standards. And we were able to convince Joachim Gossow to work for us, first as Sports Director and from 2010 onwards as CEO. Over the last four decades we have seen many upgrades in our television production, the accreditation procedure and programming. The use of Swiss Timing for the delivery of the results service gives another example. We have many partners, such as FICS who are responsible for the well-being of our athletes and officials. Talking about the health of our athletes, I also want to emphasise that we have been in compliance with WADA since we started in 1981. I would like to mention the leadership of the IWGA organisation and the small but very capable staff now running the IWGA. And not to forget: I recognise the contribution made by our current President Jose Perurena who has taken the IWGA to the next level.
5. How would you describe the difference between The World Games in 1981 and The World Games today?
The difference is enormous! Just compare the numbers: in 1981 in Santa Clara there were nearly 1,750 athletes from 58 nations competing in 15 sports. In 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama we have 3,600 athletes coming from more than 100 countries, and they strive in 30-plus sports for the gold medals of The World Games. In 1981 there were 16,000 visitors; in 2013 in Cali, Columbia there were about 500,000. The first Games were not covered by the international TV channels, whereas in 2017 in Wroclaw, Poland we could be seen world-wide thanks to the Olympic Channel. Let me put it this way: In 1981 we started with an ox-cart. In 2022 in Birmingham we will launch a rocket!
6. What, in your opinion, were special moments in the time you have been accompanying The World Games?
There are many special moments that I recall with regard to my work within the IWGA. I am thinking first of all of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in 2000 with the IOC. Juan Antonio Samaranch and I signed the MoU. Dr. Jacques Rogge then attended our Board meetings as representative of the IOC. He very quickly saw that financial support from the IOC would be very important for us, and would help to develop our Games as a springboard for our sports to become part of the Olympics. But I also remember outstanding opening ceremonies, which created the special spirit of the Games. And I was able to witness many exceptional competitions. Just one example: the wonderfully stirring atmosphere at the Dance competition in a bull-ring during The World Games in Cali, Colombia in 2013 will remain absolutely unforgettable.
7. Who were your most important companions?
Many people have accompanied the IWGA and me on the way through the four decades. It is impossible to name them all. Co Koren, our General Secretary until 2010, is someone I would like to emphasise as a long-time companion. And the Board members in my time, especially Bob de Die who passed away a few weeks ago. I want to mention Patsy Dew, our General Manager of the IWGA headquarters in Colorado Springs. Then there is Bill Hybl of the EL Pomar Foundation, who sponsored our USA headquarters for 10 years. I am grateful to our new President José Perurena that as Honorary Life President I can continue to contribute my 35 years of experience with the IWGA at our Board meetings.
8. What qualities does the IWGA have, that it can face the next 40 years with confidence?
The IWGA’s future for the next 40 years looks bright as long as the Board and the international federations stand for their commitment to excellence. It has always been our goal: With every edition we want to take our event to the next level.
9. What are your birthday wishes for the IWGA?
My birthday wishes for the IWGA? Let me answer this way: I wish for all of us that during this terrible pandemic a vaccine will be found very soon and that The World Games, postponed for one year, will be a huge success in 2022. And may everyone be safe.
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.