The Power of Sport

Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, spoke at GW about the impact of sport in global development and highlighted reform in the national committee.

Sarah Hirshland
Sarah Hirshland highlighted recent reforms at the national Olympic committee ahead of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic and Paralympic games. (Photo by: Harrison Jones/GW Today)
February 24, 2020

By Tatyana Hopkins

We should all think about sports differently, said Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).

“The lights, crowds and money matter,” she said. “But with the grand stage [of the Olympics], sport has the unique ability and purpose to unite and inspire. The five rings are the most recognized brand in the world. The Olympics and Paralympics inspire us to be our best version of ourselves because these athletes are being their best version of themselves.”

For this reason, she said the development of sport globally is critical to building a more inclusive world and inspiring global citizenship.

Ms. Hirshland spoke Friday in the Jack Morton Auditorium as the keynote speaker for the annual Sports Industry Networking and Career (SINC) Conference. The two-day conference, hosted by the George Washington University School of Business sport management program and the student organization GW Sports Business Association, offered students the opportunity to learn from and connect with top executives and leaders in the sports industry.

Ms. Hirshland, who joined USOPC in August 2018, said the goals of global unification and inspiration have guided the organization’s recent decision-making.

She said the state of the U.S. Olympic movement is strong even in light of recent challenges.

USOPC faced pressure from Congress and former Olympians to make sweeping reforms in the wake of the USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming sex abuse scandals.

“We have had a very interesting and tumultuous couple of years, a pivotal moment of change and transformation in our organization,” she said. “Some of that has come because we have learned a lot about the culture of sport and some of the factors that have allowed unfortunate, and really terrible, abuse issues to prevail.”

But she said the organization has attacked those challenges in “meaningful ways,” noting that four pillars now guide the USOPC’s strategic plan for the next five years—putting athletes first, accountability and transparency, improving culture and investing in innovation.

The plan calls for support of American athletes in moments of transition, such as retirement or maternity leave, giving athletes more medical and mental health benefits, creating a more streamlined way to report abuse and other issues and new bylaws aimed at giving athletes more of a voice.

These changes, Ms. Hirshland said, will empower and create safe environments for American athletes and transform their experience so they can reach their greatest potential on and off the field of play.

She said they will also help the organization invest in technology to improve physical and mental health and become a global leader through sports administration.

“We have a huge responsibility to the rest of the world,” she said. “We are global leaders in this movement. Our team delegation is one of the largest and most successful, if not the most successful, and so with that comes the obligation of helping and supporting our peers.”

In addition to sharing information with international peers about coaching, training, resources or even sticks and balls with countries developing their national sports program, she said USOPC is also working closely with the organizing committee for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic and Paralympic games to ensure diversity.

In closing, Ms. Hirshland encouraged students to keep diversity and human development in mind going forward in their careers.

“Think differently about you,” she said. “Engage. Your job is not to have a job in sport. Your job is to have an influence and impact.”

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