International Olympic Committee member shares her view on the future of the Olympic games
‘We can’t change the past, but we can all change the future.’
Anita DeFrantz, a member of the International Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee executive board, thinks that the Olympic games can serve as a model for a more unified planet.
“If we can do it for four weeks, why can’t we do it forever? For me, the games show what the world can be like,” DeFrantz said, commenting on what she looks forward to the most in the future as it pertains to the Olympic games.
DeFrantz, who also served as captain of the women’s rowing team at the 1976 Montreal Olympic games, spoke at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Monday night as a part of the school’s Must See Monday series.
Reminiscing on her Olympic journey, DeFrantz recalled stumbling across a boat at Connecticut College and subsequently joining the rowing team there.
“There was a boat on display and I was curious. I thought I might as well try it,” she said. “I loved it. I loved the sport—there’s only one part of the body that can be harmed doing it and that’s the ego.”
Aside from her rowing career, DeFrantz is most widely known for serving as plaintiff against the United States Olympic Committee during the 1980 Olympic games when President Carter prohibited American athletes from attending the games in Moscow.
“There were ways that we could have gone [to the games] if we would have been able to discuss,” DeFrantz said, referencing a disappointing meeting with President Carter. “To take from us something so precious was so wrong—and pointless.”
DeFrantz also discussed her work to bring gender equity to the games. “Two-thirds of the housing [in Montreal] were for men. I realized over time that there was this huge inequality,” she said. “The women rowed 1000 meters and the men rowed 2000. We were making a difference for women in our sport, but for a lot of sports, there weren’t any women.”
Speaking for the International Olympic Committee, DeFrantz discussed the goals to have a 50-50 ratio of men to women in the Olympic games by 2024.
“We’re serious as a heart attack about this. We will do it,” DeFrantz said. “We can’t change the past, but we can all change the future.”
As she looks to the future of the Olympic games, DeFrantz remains positive. This came as a surprise to Victoria Jackson, a sports historian and lecturer at ASU, who hosted the discussion.
“I think it’s reassuring that she’s not worried about the future of the games, that concerns about human rights or sustainability or security didn’t really seem to be a major concern for her,” Jackson said. “I feel like that’s mostly what we read about [in the news]. It was refreshing to hear something different.”
DeFrantz also touched on the upcoming Olympic games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Regarding the unification of the Koreas for the opening ceremony, she recalled the last time such an event occurred at the Sydney Olympic games in 2000. In both cases, DeFrantz said, “The point is proving that we can all get along together.”
Monday’s program brought out not only students, faculty and staff from ASU, but also members of the community. One audience member, an orthopedic surgeon in Phoenix named Dana Jamison, was excited to see DeFrantz because of their similar beginnings in rowing.
“In 1980, I was a freshman in college with a story much like Anita DeFrantz’s. I walked past the Charles River and found out about rowing,” Jamison said. “Someone said to me at the time in the boathouse, ‘Who do you think you are? Do you want to be the next Anita DeFrantz?’ and I said, ‘Yes, yes I would.’”
Jamison was able to meet with DeFrantz during the program and even receive an autographed copy of her book, My Olympic Life, which she promoted during her stop at ASU. After departing from Phoenix, DeFrantz will head directly to Pyeongchang to prepare for this year’s Olympic games.