February 13, 2019 / 4:40 PM / 8 days ago

Olympics-Athlete-led group forms to drive change in sporting world

Feb 13 (Reuters) - Athletes around the world must be at the forefront of shaping the future of global sport, British Olympic cycling champion Callum Skinner said on Wednesday as he fronts a new athlete-led organisation launched following recent scandals.

Global Athlete, the creation of which comes after a Russian doping crisis and USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal, says it will empower Olympic athletes to speak up and work towards addressing a disconnect between competitors and sports leaders.

The independent body will focus on issues such as calling for a more robust doping system, better athlete welfare and ensuring athletes receive some Olympic revenues or prize money.

"It's 2019, and, frankly speaking, sports governance lags far behind other sectors of society in terms of engaging their constituents," Skinner, who won a gold medal in the team sprint at the 2016 Rio Olympics, said in a statement.

"As we've seen of late, athletes care deeply about how their sport is run, and they want an opportunity to provide input and to help shape sport's future.

"A sporting landscape that it is democratic, representative and in-touch with wider society and opinion is critical to progress and staying relevant."

The body also said it has appointed former World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Deputy Director General Rob Koehler as Director General.

Koehler, who abruptly left WADA last year, will lead a so-called "listening exercise" with athletes in all countries in the coming months to understand the changes they want to see in sport.

Koehler believed that it was time competitors had a greater role in decision making.

"For too many years, athletes have been sidelined when speaking up – the fear of retribution must stop," he said.

"Athletes have an inherent interest in a healthy sporting environment and to leave sport in a better place then they found it... There is a clear realisation that change has been demanded, and change is now coming."

Global Athlete is being funded initially by independent foundation FairSport along with individual donors who will have no part in the decision making or operations of the movement. (Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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