DOSB boss on Olympics: "We will put ourselves in front of the athletes"
Exclusive The new DOSB President Thomas Weikert talks about freedom of speech in China, tapped cell phones and takes away a hope from his predecessor Alfons Hormann.
Mr. Weikert , you leave for Beijing on Monday for the Olympic Games. For the first time you will be there as DOSB president on site. What feelings will you be getting on the plane with?
Weikert : The feelings are of course quite mixed. First of all, it is probably more difficult to get into the bubble in good health than to stay there in good health. Like everyone in the team, I will take two PCR tests shortly beforehand, then one at Beijing airport, then another in the evening at the hotel. In China, the bubble will be very tight, the investigations very precise. There probably won’t be many contagions on site, it will be very well organized.
Anticipation sounds different.
Weikert : I have been to several Olympic Games. I was looking forward to the spectators, to the performance of the athletes. That is of course a little different here and was also the case in Tokyo. Nevertheless, there were grateful voices from the athletes there. It would be a great success if this were to happen again.
You know China and the Chinese soul very well. How do the hosts deal with this situation?
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Weikert : For one thing, the tests and the whole shebang are very strict and very precise. We had two table tennis events in China during the pandemic and the organization was very careful and meticulous. On the other hand, I know that the Chinese like to cheer. For her compatriots, even if the Chinese winter athletes will not be among the top five in the medal table. But there are also gold favorites. The Chinese are very sorry that they can’t celebrate them.
"We also know that the quarantine hotel is good now"
Last summer, the situation on the ground in Tokyo ultimately turned out to be much more relaxed than feared in advance. Could this also be the case in Beijing?
Weikert : These strict measures are good, after all, to keep everyone healthy. I think that is absolutely necessary. We know now, because there was a positive case in the support staff on arrival, that the tests are reasonable. We also know that the quarantine hotel is now good. We had raised the conditions at the test competitions and then had a video conference with the Chinese Minister of Sport, in which he said, meaningfully and astonishingly, that this had not been good and would not happen again. So I also think that it will relax a little bit.
It should not be in the interest of the organizer that these games go down in history as the Omikron Scandal Games. Is there not perhaps even the danger that not all positive tests will reach the public at all?
Weikert : Good question. The fact is that a few hours after a positive test, there is a second test. If that is then also positive, you can call an international body. It’s pure speculation, but I’m just going to assume that the tests will be conducted in a reasonable manner, as they were in Tokyo, and that transparency will be established.
Weikert : The ski federation itself has put this right. Of course athletes are worried that everything will be fine in China. That they will be treated well and that they will stay healthy. But without having concrete evidence, you certainly can not say that.
How did you find the statement of Maier , who spoke from the soul of many athletes??
Weikert : I cannot judge that. I can only say that the tension must understandably also have been the reason for Wolfgang Maier to articulate it in this way. As much as I understand this, I advise them to refrain from speculation. What we know is that there are two tests and then the independent follow-up control. I think it is realistic that everything will happen there in the right way.
Do you actually take your private cell phone to China on Monday ?
Weikert : Yes, I will take that with me. We sought advice from the Federal Office for Security Technology. It advises caution. With me the child has already fallen into the well, I know from my travels that controls in China are quite possible, to put it mildly. I said flippantly that they already know everything about me anyway .
Many athletes leave their cell phones at home and are afraid to speak out in China. They fear reprisals. What advice do you give to your athletes?
Weikert : We have prepared the athletes with experts from the German Foreign Office and Human Rights Watch, who know their way around China. At the Olympic Games there is freedom of speech, for example in interviews or press conferences. Our sportsmen and sportswomen can also express themselves politically. But you can also leave it and concentrate on the sport. We will respect both. One way or another – we will stand in front of the athletes and protect them.
Are there sanctions if athletes say the wrong thing from the organizers’ point of view??
Weikert : I cannot imagine that. There was a statement from an official who is part of the organizing committee. The IOC has rejected this. I trust that the contracts that the IOC has signed with the organizers will be respected.
Will you take a clear position on the human rights situation in China?
Weikert : We have published a statement that says, among other things, that respect for human rights is indispensable. Otherwise, we will speak on the spot and depending on the situation or not.
What is your relationship with Thomas Bach? ? You rely on the contracts he signed for the IOC.
Weikert : I have spoken to Thomas Bach on the phone several times in recent weeks and have also expressed the concerns of the German athletes.
It is quite noticeable that the IOC has been reluctant to make political statements lately. Do you miss clear words there?
Weikert : There are several ways to act. More in the public domain. And just the quiet diplomacy that I know Thomas Bach favors. If you achieve changes in silence, that is also a good thing.
But in 2008, at the Summer Games in Beijing, this silent diplomacy did not bring the hoped-for success. Why don’t they take a different tone this time.
Weikert : Difficult. I believe that there is a lot of work going on in the background. I don’t know if Thomas Bach was already president in 2008.
Weikert : Okay. He has certainly found his own style. In Germany the IOC is criticized because of Beijing, but we must not forget that there were only two candidates for the 2022 Games: Kazakhstan with Almaty and China with Beijing. Kazakhstan would not be a democratic state either.
The point is to bring about change.
Weikert : But the IOC has already changed its mind. This can be seen from the agenda 2020 and 2025. And from that, where the games have been going since Beijing. With Milan and Cortina as well as the Summer Games in Paris, Los Angeles and Brisbane, the first successes can be seen.
But now you give the top diplomat. To put it bluntly: Do you see Thomas Bach more on your side or on the side of the organizer??
Weikert : To put it bluntly: "It’s not a question of for me or against me, but of the cause – the Olympics. Thomas Bach has a mandate for that. In the conversations with Mr. Bach it is clear that he knows the problems and that the IOC is not interested in bad games.
Luge athlete Natalie Geisenberger also spoke to Thomas Bach because she had serious doubts about whether she wanted to go to China at all. Would there be a need for more of these mature, perhaps also slightly rebellious athletes??
Weikert : Whether an athlete gets involved is first of all a personal thing. At least in the conversation between the two apparently problems have been cleared up.
On sports : What do you expect from the German athletes??
Weikert : Dirk Schimmelpfennig, our Chef de Mission, who has a better understanding of the sport, says we should be somewhere between Sochi and Pyeongchang in terms of medal haul. To finish between second and sixth in the medal table would be good. But I don’t think much of counting medals. In my eyes, an at least equally important goal is to get the athletes there and back again in good health.
What are you most looking forward to at these games??
Weikert : I can hardly say. I am new to winter sports. I’m impressed by the speed of alpine skiing, and I’ve never seen bobsleigh and luge live before. Maybe an ice hockey game.
Which winter sport do you occasionally practice yourself??
Weikert : I haven’t been skiing for several years now. Unfortunately. And I don’t think jogging, cycling and table tennis are winter sports either (laughs).
On Alfons Hormann’s accusations: "There will be no proof"
Well, all beginning is difficult. Did you get some tips from your predecessor Alfons Hormann before your first games??
Weikert : I spoke with Alfons Hormann after the election, but not about this topic.
Weikert : After all, there was a proper handover to be made. Those were very proper talks with regard to the problems that need to be worked out in the DOSB. But such one-on-one talks don’t necessarily have to be made public.
Then please tell us how far the process has progressed internally. Is the climate of fear gone?
Weikert : One was the leadership crisis, the other are the employees. The latter work very well and handle the projects. There was already a certain uncertainty. I have had many discussions and believe that everything is on a good track.
Mr. Hormann is still talking about a campaign against him. Do you fear that there is still something to come??
Weikert : I couldn’t understand that at the time and I can’t understand it today either. I am afraid for Mr. Hormann: There will be no proof because there is nothing to prove.
Still to your main task. You need to save the German sport, because Corona has left huge gaps. How dramatic is the situation?
Weikert : No longer quite so bad. There is also a slight negative trend in membership for 2021, but weaker than 2020. In some states like Hesse there are even slight increases. But the implications are significant: we need to get people back into the clubs locally. The members as well as the exercise instructors or groundskeepers who have thrown down. One of the main tasks will be to strengthen voluntary work in many ways – with tax allowances, pension points, but also non-material recognition.
And the offspring?
Weikert : Yes, we have enough children who want to train from 2 p.m., but we have no one to take care of them at that time. We have to find new ways of cooperating with schools. Something urgently needs to be done for children, young people, clubs, sports facilities, swimming pools and much more, this is one of our very big challenges. That’s the foundation, without that we won’t have any interesting interviews about Olympia in the foreseeable future either.
Personal details: Thomas Weikert succeeds the recently controversial Alfons Hormann from Sulzberg (Oberallgau) as president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation since December 2021. The 60-year-old from Limburg (Hesse) works as a lawyer specializing in family and sports law. Weikert was president of the World Table Tennis Federation for six years and keeps in touch with the grassroots as a player for Verbandsligist TTC Elz.