25.11.2017 | interview
Thomas Röhler: “We have to pull together more than ever”
At the World Athletics Awards of the World Athletics Federation IAAF, Thomas Röhler (LC Jena) was in a new role on Friday: After his election to the IAAF Athletes Committee, he met his new colleagues for a first informal exchange. His term officially starts on January 1, 2018. We talked to the javelin Olympic champion about new challenges, old passions and his self-image beyond competitive sports.
Thomas Röhler, you were elected to the Athletes Commission of the IAAF during the World Cup in London. How did your candidacy come about?
I’m the first German athlete to do that at all. The DLV asked me if I could imagine that. And since I know two or three athletes who were or are already on the commission, I asked them what would happen to me. Finally, I thought: That’s a good thing, I should stand for election, I’m probably the right man for that.
Was that directly your first gut feeling?
Yes, the feeling was positive from the beginning. As an athlete representative, I already gained experience within my club. At school I did something similar at a higher level. I find the story exciting because it’s international. And because ultimately, above all, the personal opinion is in demand – even if I understand it of course as an opportunity to place the German athletics there with.
How did your German teammates react when you heard that you were standing for election?
There is a crazy rule: campaigning is completely forbidden. The athletes who are allowed to vote at the World Championships should be completely unaffected. There was an international election paper, a kind of brochure in which I could present myself and my topics, my positions. That was really only a small section, with which one has imagined. Of course I spoke with other athletes – but I was not even allowed to officially say it.
picture by Olaf Brockmann at the IAAF Athletes of the Year Ceremony 2017
Which topics did you focus on?
I am doing athletics since I am seven years old. I see great potential in reducing the gap between club sports, recreational sports and top international athletics. Here to create much more intersections. German club sport has many advantages. But internationally, this model is not established – and we have to make it internationally, that there is a kind of healthy pyramid, especially in today’s dynamic society. The needs of active society must be reflected in sports structures. It is important to make the format of athletics even better known internationally, and to make the competitive forms more comprehensible to many different cultures.
The Athletes’ Association of the IAAF comprises 18 athletes. Currently also pole vault world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva, which is currently out there as a Russian and has polarized in the discussion about the Russian doping scandal strongly polarized. A foretaste that not all members will be on the same wavelength. What challenges do you see?
Basically, I see it as positive that the committee is a large spectrum of our sport. There are both active and former athletes. Athletes from all kinds of associations and cultures. Certainly many different opinions are represented. But I’ve been told that working on the panel itself is almost always fruitful. People are proud that the voice of the athletes is made audible, but the body itself only makes one vote. Although we can share a common opinion with this one voice. But we can not influence to the extent that it would be desirable. Nevertheless, it is more about the spoken word, because the athletes form opinions together and make them audible. And the Commission is a great body for that.
In Germany, we are following the development that athletes are breaking away from institutions and associations. The athlete spokesman of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) have founded their own representation of interests. How do you rate that?
I think the point is that the opinion and experience of athletes in structures and organizations is taken into account. If it helps to set up an independent institution in Germany, then that is positive. All in all, however, I see the danger that sport is becoming more and more fragmented. There is a lot of uncertainty, including in terms of competitive sports reform. The people outside only know: Something will change, and it will probably change for the better, man is optimistic. Of course, as an athlete I have the view “inside out”. And I think the saying “Too many cooks spoiling the broth” is a lot. Basically, it’s just important to me that you find intersections and drive the sport together. Sport has become entertainment in today’s society. And to represent the values of sport, we must pull together more than ever.
Athletesprecherin in the German Athletics Association is pole vaulter Martina Strutz. Imagine an exchange here?
As soon as I’m in action starting next year, I’m sure I’ll be looking for a conversation. But basically I have to see how everything starts. I know something about meetings, conferences and phone calls. But as far as I know, the concrete work will be more project dependent. And often spontaneously. Most of the time I have to rely on my own opinion, which I was able to form in conversation and in exchange. But I am well aware of the great responsibility and that I also stand a bit far for German athletics everywhere.
As a top athlete, it is certainly not always easy to do additional honorary tasks. How do you want to arrange your new office with competitive sports?
The basic requirement is that you burn for what you do. And I do. The time was also the main reason why I considered for a week, if I should really do that. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it does not necessarily take much extra time to talk and probe opinions – and if so, it’s worth the time. Of course, good time management is required, and I have already learned and lived as a top athlete in my school days and during my studies. Besides, the challenge is fun, that’s important too. With my trainer [Harro Schwuchow], I have come up with a concept that allows me to not have to do sports 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to work contentedly and purposefully towards my goals. For me, all this is in a pleasant harmony.
IAAF Athlete Commission, Sports Conference of Deutschlandfunk, Talk about Psychology in Sport – You are more and more a sought-after discussion partner for topics that require a look beyond the horizon. How do you rate that?
When it comes to controversial stories, to innovative approaches – big topic “future of the entire sport” – my voice is now often in demand. This is a nice appreciation of what I have done in the last few years together with my team. Personally, I do not see myself as the pure competitive athlete and Olympic champion. About this “little more” I define myself, and so I would like to be perceived.
IAAF Athletes’ Commission
The Athletes Committee of the World Athletics Federation IAAF comprises 18 athletes, each of whom is elected or nominated for a four-year term. Six of them left this body on January 1, 2018, and six new members were elected by the participating athletes to the Commission at the August World Championships in London. For the first time since the election was introduced in 2003, German Olympic athlete Thomas Röhler has also included a German athlete. According to the new IAAF Constitution, the Athletes Commission, with its chairman and one other member, will be a member of the IAAF Council from 1 October 2019 and will also be entitled to vote there. The IAAF Council is the executive body of the World Federation with currently 27 members and 26 members from October 2019, chaired by the IAAF President.