The World Games Pioneer

The World Games Pioneer

Fred Baer is The World Games pioneer, in effect the ‘coachman of an ox wagon’. The Californian journalist was part of the organising team of The World Games I in 1981. During the SportAccord convention in Bankgok, Thailand, The World Games veteran visited the booth of the next host city Birmingham, Alabama.

  1. 40 years after its première in Santa Clara, California, the multi-sport event will return to the USA in 2021. Fred Baer is looking forward to the comeback, and was keen to let the organisers of the eleventh edition in Birmingham, Alabama know that. DJ Mackovetz, CEO of the Birmingham Organising Committee (BOC), took time to exchange impressions and expectations about the event and its development. And he invited the guest to attend The World Games in Birmingham.

The media man, who now writes mainly about athletics, also brought a small present to the Birmingham booth in Bangkok: the list of all medal winners at the première for the event in 1981. Fifteen sports on the official programme plus one invitational sport, and 108 medal decisions, were on the agenda of the first edition of The World Games, which took place from 24 to 29 July 1981.

A glance at the document immediately shows how times have changed. "Today the results lists are available online and immediately after each competition. At that time, we used typewriters and a copy machine. We made our lists available to the journalists at the end of each of the competition days," says Fred Baer. In 1981 he was in charge of the Media Centre, located in a secondary school in Santa Clara.

Baer had previously attended the Games' host site Santa Clara University and trained as an athlete both there and with America's best sprinters at San Jose's neighboring "Speed City" enclave. He later worked as a journalist and media consultant. His friend Dick Degnon, Head of the Media Department on the Organising Committee, had asked him to set up the Press Centre.

In total 21 people worked for the team to deliver the news of The World Games I. Fred Baer remembers the Games themselves only vaguely. He explains: "When you run a media centre, you can't even watch the competitions. The service for journalists is on full focus. We learned everything at second hand when the journalists returned from the fields of play." He could not even make it to the Opening Ceremony!

Honorary IWGA President Ron Froehlich once described the development of The World Games since 1981 as follows: "We started with an ox wagon and a donkey cart. Now we have a super jet.” Fred Baer's review confirms this. There were no live broadcasts over the Internet - there wasn't even the Internet. The articles were written on a typewriter, and the most important communication devices were the landline telephone, the telecopier, and Western Union Telex.

"About 50 journalists reported on the Games in 1981," Baer said. More than 1300 media representatives from 50 nations were on duty at The World Games in 2017.

“I can remember that also some local TV channels showed up,” Fred Baer says. Since then, the interest has kept growing: The World Games 2017 was covered by TV stations in more than 100 countries, and the Olympic Channel delivered live stream of the competitions to fans all over the world. For 2021, the organisers expect an even wider media attention. The comparison between ox cart and super jet fits very well!

In 1981 the focus of attention was on Baseball and Trampoline, sports that were better known in the USA. Baer himself was particularly interested in women's Water Polo. "It was just an invitational sport. As a journalist, Aquatics are one of my subjects. Women's Water Polo was not on the Olympic programme at that time and it meant something that this competition was part of a multi-sport event."

  1. After the Games he lost the connection to The World Games: "because I reported mainly on athletics and swimming," Fred Baer says. After reading that The World Games are coming back to the USA, he went to his private archive. The hand-typed original result list was his most important find. It provides a trace of the time when The World Games started as an ox wagon trail.

 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, 15-25 July 2021. 3,600 athletes from over 30 sports and 100 countries will take part in the Games.

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