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German swimmer Thomas Lurz at a championship ahead of Beijing Olympics 2008
© dpa - International
‘Germany for sporting success and imparting values’

June 27, 2008

Dr Michael Vesper, Director General of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), talks about aspirations for the Olympic Games and the social significance of sport.

Dr Vesper, as Chef de Mission, you will be heading the German delegation at the Olympic Games. What are your aspirations for the trip to Beijing?

We have three goals. We want sporting success, we want to achieve it fairly and squarely and we want to be worthy representatives of Germany. That involves communicating our fundamental values – and those naturally also include human rights – in China.

What sporting aspirations does the Olympic team have? In which sports is Germany well-placed? And how important do you consider the national rankings?

Unfortunately since the Barcelona Games in 1992 we have been winning fewer and fewer medals at Summer Olympic Games. This downward trend, which meant we hit rock bottom at Athens in 2004, is something we aim to stop. We thus want to do at least as well as we did four years ago – if possible, better. In this effort, we will be helped by the sports in which we have traditionally been strong: canoeing, for example, or riding. But that will not be enough. We must also do better in the track and field events and in swimming. Whether you like it or not, a team’s success or failure is judged on the basis of the national rankings. Nevertheless, fourth and fifth place also represent superb performances.

The Olympics involve much more than just sport. What is the DOSB doing to promote the Olympic ideal?

One year ago we founded the German Olympic Academy Willi Daume. It is intended to help further develop and communicate the Olympic ideal. At the end of July in Berlin we are organising a major congress on the subject of sport as a model for and mirror of society. There we shall be discussing fundamental questions of the Olympic movement.

The Olympic Games clearly focus on top-class competitive sport. How important is popular mass sport for the DOSB? And what are the key areas?

Despite many fears, mass sport has not fallen behind in recent years. On the contrary, we have launched a whole raft of new activities – for example, the campaign “Wanted: Germany’s Most Active Town”. Popular sport in all its facets is alive and kicking. Furthermore, we need it as the foundation for activities in top-class sport. That includes our commitment in the area of integration and, above all, the area of health. Our slogan is “Sport moves you” – that says it all.

Sport has long been an important economic factor. To what extent are its mainly voluntary structures still up-to-date and compatible with other social developments? And how does the “German model” compare with those in other countries?

When it comes to sport’s significance as an economic factor, there are clearly great differences. You can’t compare football with judo, and the professional leagues in some sports have very little in common with others that attract little public interest. It is precisely because of this that sport continues to rely on its voluntary organizational structures. Who else but our millions of volunteers are supposed to perform sport’s important social duties? Sport performs voluntary work in the fields of integration, preventive health care, rehabilitation and, not least, in imparting values. Germany certainly sets an example when you compare it with other countries.

Following the merger of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the German Sport Federation (DSB) to form the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), the organization has gained considerable influence. What role does the DOSB wish to play in society in the future? And what are its goals?

How strongly the DOSB is involved in politics is something of which I am very personally aware because I am constantly meeting many of my former political colleagues. The DOSB with its 27 million members is a strong partner for achieving sociopolitical goals. When the Federal Government launches a campaign called “Fit Not Fat”, how can it aim to implement it without the assistance of organized sport? How can we motivate our children to exercise more if not through sport? That’s why we firmly believe it is high time to lay down in the Basic Law that sport is one of the goals of government.

Another major project is already slowly taking shape: Munich is applying to host the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2018. How is the project progressing? And how you rate its chances of success?

Munich is a strong applicant. For the first time, a venue for the Summer Games wants to host the Winter Games. Munich’s greatest advantage is certainly the compactness of the sports venues and its sustainability: the 1972 Olympic Park could be used again. And Garmisch-Partenkirchen is ideal for the snow events. It is also where the Skiing World Championships will be held in 2011. That’s why Munich has excellent chances of success.

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