The International Olympic Committee and Rio 2016 security passed tough test today when violent protestors muscled into the arrival area for journalists and guests to attend a scheduled press conference with IOC President Thomas Bach. The response speaks for itself. Listening, dialog, patience and politeness were put into action as the preferred course of action. Well rehearsed teamwork between military police, local police, convention facility security, and IOC bodyguards provided a stern deterrent to a more dangerous situation. But the first response was diplomatic and effective – dialog and a commitment to try to accommodate serious concerns the protesters feel passionately about.
This was an especially relevant test for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The U.S.A. vs. Brazil Beach Volleyball Championships were taking place right across the street and thousands of innocent bystanders were nearby. Both the volleyball championships and press conference continued as planned.
“I try to think in solutions,” said IOC President Thomas Bach when explaining his management philosophy and leadership style to two hundred journalists from around the world. IOC Communications Director Mark Adams met with leaders of the protest immediately to share specific information about work in progress that could help reach an agreement between the protest group and IOC representatives. This reinforced an important message IOC President wanted to emphasize in today’s press conference. That is “we will be open to the public.”
The specific issue at the center of attention was one of many that will require continuing dialog, tact and diplomacy. The Olympic Golf Course plan includes cutting about 300 trees in a rainforest area and intense irrigation. On the irrigation issue, a good response was already prepared. The facility is designed to use 100% recycled water and not divert local drinking water supplies. It may take more time to figure out a good solution, but if everyone involved follows Bach’s mantra “I try to think in solutions,” the outlook for the future will improve. (Perhaps a generous philanthropist from the USA will step forward with a donation to relocate the trees to a public park or botanical garden rather than cut them.)
Water quality in the areas planned for sailing and windsurfing is another area where environmentalists have many legitimate concerns. Bach presented this from the perspective of progress towards a goal, rather than a promise that might not be kept. He explained that he was part of the team that reviewed the a bid for Rio to become an Olympic host city twenty years ago and that the water quality did not improve at all until Rio won the competition to host the 2016 Olympic games six years ago. The relative improvement to prior status has been significant, and recent changes in IOC environmental policies could be used to relocate some events to more pristine venues if necessary.
Bach’s commitment to staying open to public discussion at all time and thinking in terms of solutions provide valuable lessons for a long term goal of the Olympic Games and the tradition of rotating the games to different cities around the world. The IOC and Rio 2016 organizations want to leave a legacy of advanced management skills, as well as practical experience with teamwork and pursuit of excellence. As the 2016 Rio Olympics step up the pace to the finish line, leading by example can be one of the most effective ways to achieve these goals.
Read more news from the IOC Executive Board meeting in Rio de Janeiro at this link.