WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the earliest members of a crowd expected to grow to nearly 1,200 people representing all 206 National Olympic Committees, Tuesday night was about reaching across the aisle.
At a reception celebrating the first night of the XX Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly, ANOC President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah welcomed the annual congress back to the United States for the first time in more than two decades.
“I hope you are enjoying your hot dogs like an American,” ANOC President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah said at the reception sponsored by Around the Rings. “I am very happy to be here in Washington after a long, long, long time.”
The night – which marked the beginning of the first ANOC assembly in the United States since Atlanta hosted the event in 1994 – featured a bevy of guests enjoying traditional American delicacies as they exchanged conversation, hugs and handshakes.
Many international delegates began arriving as early as Monday for preliminary commission and working group meetings ahead of the two-day general assembly, set for Oct. 29-30. Among the international representatives were Thomas Bach, International Olympic Committee president, dozens of IOC members and sports federation leaders, future Organizing Committees of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and representatives from the five bid cities for the 2024 Games.
In the spirit of Halloween, a costumed actor dressed as Pierre de Coubertin – the French founder of the modern Olympic Games – raised his cane and tipped his top hat, while offering to take selfies with the guests.
“We are excited to welcome our colleagues from around the world for one of the most important meetings of the Olympic Movement,” said Larry Probst, chairman of the United States Olympic Committee, which is supporting ANOC in hosting the event. “We’re grateful to ANOC and President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah for affording us the opportunity to help host the event, as well as to The Foundation for Global Sports Development for providing critical support.”
The week will also include a robust cultural program whereby guests will have the opportunity to experience the many offerings in and around Washington, D.C., from museums and monuments to world-class dining and shopping.
“Washington is sometimes a dysfunctional city, but it’s one of the world’s beautiful cities,” said USOC CEO Scott Blackmun of the nation’s capital and its ability to unite a crowd. “We’re very lucky to have some beautiful architecture, some great shopping, the museums, the music, the theater. We hope more than anything else that our international guests have a wonderful time over the next few days.”
For a newcomer like Olympic swimmer Ryan Pini, who recently transition into his role as deputy chair of the athletes’ commission for Papua New Guinea’s Olympic committee, Tuesday’s opportunity to network with IOC members and global decision makers was vital.
“I think it’s pretty important to be able to keep that connection going,” he said. “On this level, I haven’t been to something this large. To see everyone mingling together and especially to be in America, too, it feels like a pretty big deal to be here. It’s easy to talk when you’re around people that are involved in sport.”
In addition to opportunities for the guests to enjoy local culture, the rest of the week will feature a USOC Welcome Reception on Wednesday and the marquee event of the assembly, the ANOC Awards Gala at DAR Constitution Hall on Thursday.
“We are very happy to be here in Washington and get our meetings underway after many months of preparation,” ANOC Secretary General Gunilla Lindberg said. “We had some very productive commission and working group meetings today, and we look forward to the ANOC executive council meeting tomorrow.”