The International World Games Association (IWGA) was founded on 21st May 1980, and the first edition of The World Games was held the following year in Santa Clara, USA. Today, the IWGA celebrates its 40th anniversary after 10 successful editions of the Games. The next edition will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA in 2022 (postponed from 2021), when The World Games return to the USA for the first time since 1981.
“We have come a long, long way since 1980,” says IWGA President José Perurena. “The founding congress was held in Seoul, South Korea with twelve founding members, of which ten are still members of the IWGA today. In the meantime The World Games family has grown to 37 members. This number alone is an expression of the enormous development that the IWGA has undergone over the past 40 years. The same applies to the event itself: The World Games present competitions at the highest level and have meanwhile achieved worldwide visibility.”
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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. Their hope was to be included in the Olympic programme at some time. This hope has been fulfilled not only for Taekwondo in the past 40 years, but for many others, and five of the current The World Games federations will be present also in the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021. The sports of the founding federations were Badminton, Body Building, Bowling, Baseball, Casting, Karate, Powerlifting, Roller Skating, Softball, Taekwondo, Tug of War and Waterski.
The World Games soon attracted new members, such as Archery, Life Saving and Racquetball in 1982 and many more during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Since 2000, 8 new members have joined the family, WAKO Kickboxing being the latest in 2014. The Games have grown in terms of the number of athletes and countries too: in 1981, 15 sports, 1,893 participants and 58 nations took part. In 2001 this had increased to 22 sports, 2,881 participants and 80 nations, and in 2022 we will have 30 sports, 3,600 athletes and more than 100 nations.
Since the beginning in 1981, the IWGA has remained true to its principles. The World Games do not see themselves as competition to the Olympic Games, but as a complement and at the same time as a showcase for new and young sports. Sustainability is another hallmark: as at the very beginning of The World Games history, the construction of new sports facilities is not required. This opens up the opportunity for exceptional competition venues: in the past 40 years, the stage in front of a blast furnace has served as a podium for competition climbing, a philharmonic hall as a venue for powerlifting and a bull-fighting ring as a venue for DanceSport.
At the same time, the host cities use The World Games to improve their infrastructure in the field of sports. Another principle is that only the very best athletes in each sport or discipline are invited to show their skills at The World Games. The international federations determine who these best are. They are also responsible for their competitions during the event, in cooperation with the host city.
So the IWGA, in cooperation with the host city and the International Federations, sets the perfect stage for those who are in the limelight: the athletes!
“My special thanks for all these years go to our federations. Without them, there would be no IWGA. I would also like to thank my predecessors in office and the Board members over the past 40 years, and our current executives. Their commitment is indispensable for our goal: to take our event to the next level from edition to edition.”
“My appreciation also goes to our staff. With a small team we can achieve great things. We are also grateful for our partnership with the IOC and their support. We feel part of the Olympic movement. This is particularly evident from the fact that we share the same values. Finally and most importantly, I would like to thank the athletes: they perform on the main stage. And that’s how it will remain in the future,” President Perurena concludes.
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.