In his first online interview, former Federal Councillor Adolf Ogi talks about the foundation Freude herrscht.

Hope in times of trouble

Bringing joy

The Philanthropist had its first Skype inter­view with former Fede­ral Coun­cil­lor Adolf Ogi at the end of April. It was a heart­felt, perso­nal discus­sion of the impact of coro­na­vi­rus on the older popu­la­tion, on sport and, in parti­cu­lar, on his foun­da­tion Freude herrscht.

You were minis­ter for sport and are a sports­man yours­elf. Are you able to keep active in these unusual times?

I try to spend an hour to an hour and a half in the woods every day. That means follo­wing the advice of the Fede­ral Coun­cil, of course. I’ve rarely come across anyone else, and I need to stay active. That’s always been the case for me. 

It’s the end of April. What do you miss about life before coronavirus?

We’ve mana­ged pretty well so far. But it’s reaching the point now where I’d really like to see people again – to meet someone for coffee or eat out at a restau­rant. I’d love to stop some­where for a bite to eat while I’m out walking, meet some friends and, above all, be able to give my daugh­ter a hug. 

You’ve been invol­ved in sport almost your whole life. You occu­p­ied key roles in the world of Swiss and inter­na­tio­nal sport. What impact will the current situa­tion have?

I’m really concer­ned about the current situa­tion. It’s a diffi­cult time for sport. It’s hard to see the full extent of it right now. Unfort­u­na­tely, sport hasn’t been mentio­ned in a very long time in the government’s daily press confe­ren­ces during the coro­na­vi­rus crisis. I’m slightly worried that sport will lose out majorly in the current situa­tion. There is a lot at risk – not just for profes­sio­nal athle­tes, but for local clubs and asso­cia­ti­ons, too. They will proba­bly not all survive. I think the value of sport needs to receive more reco­gni­tion from the government.

What will the damage be for amateur sports?

It’s not just going to affect amateur sports. It starts with profes­sio­nal sport­ing events. The Olym­pics have been post­po­ned, the Euro­pean Foot­ball Cham­pi­on­ship won’t be taking place, major tennis tour­na­ments like Wimble­don have been called off, and more inter­na­tio­nal compe­ti­ti­ons are being cancel­led every day. It’s caus­ing a snow­ball effect. Natio­nal cham­pi­on­ships and regio­nal events are being cancel­led as a result. As long as no more than five people are allo­wed to meet, this is going to conti­nue. If clubs can’t hold their regu­lar events, if they can’t set up their hot dog stands, if they miss out on the least bit of income, their finan­ces will collapse. The clubs will then also lose the volun­teers who work for them. That’s the problem. 

What will be the result?

If the ice hockey Natio­nal League, the Cham­pi­ons League or the Foot­ball League 19/20 are suspen­ded and the 20/21 season doesn’t open, that will be bad. It’s worth remem­be­ring that for many people, foot­ball is a form of enter­tain­ment that’s good for the soul. Sport inspi­res people. And that’s an incre­di­bly valuable thing in our lives. All of us are under some kind of pres­sure, and sport gives us an outlet.

What does sport mean for our society more generally?

If we want to live in a better and more peaceful world in future, we need poli­ti­ci­ans with people skills, a thri­ving economy, science, and tole­rant reli­gious and spiri­tual leaders. We need the current gene­ra­tion of young people, people who want to take respon­si­bi­lity and become leaders in the future. Every child between the age of 5 and 12 should have the oppor­tu­nity to learn the life lessons that sport teaches you. Sport teaches you how to win without getting too full of yours­elf and lose without being thrown into the depths of despair. Sport teaches you to work as part of a team and to accept rules and decis­i­ons made by the refe­ree. My expe­ri­ence as direc­tor of Swiss Ski, as a fede­ral coun­cil­lor and, in parti­cu­lar, my role as UN Special Advi­ser on Sport for Deve­lo­p­ment and Peace has convin­ced me of this.

It looks as though this virus might be with us for a while. What is your advice for the older generation? 

There is no one piece of gene­ral advice for ever­y­body. My gene­ra­tion is suffe­ring, we have to be honest about that.

Not ever­yone is finding the situa­tion easy to cope with, but they are gene­rally sticking very closely to the advice. We defi­ni­tely need to applaud them for that. We have to some extent ‘locked up’ the older gene­ra­tion, and now we need to find a way of letting them back out again. My gene­ra­tion has acted in soli­da­rity and acknow­led­ged that they can’t simply ignore the Fede­ral Council’s advice. They’ve been main­tai­ning social distancing and washing their hands. Now it’s time for the older gene­ra­tion to come out of lock­down and be able to meet up and play bridge. Switz­er­land is a coun­try with four languages and 26 cantons. We have been living freely and peacefully toge­ther since 1848. Older people know the value of that. Living toge­ther in this way requi­res people to connect and debate with each other. If people can’t see each other anymore, it could lead to social tension. It is important and right that people be able to meet again under the speci­fied safety precau­ti­ons. Connec­tion gives us strength.

Might the coro­na­vi­rus crisis also be an oppor­tu­nity to improve dialo­gue between the gene­ra­ti­ons and increase soli­da­rity? Youn­ger people are helping older people.

When you’re faced with a crisis, it’s charac­ter that counts. You can emerge from a crisis stron­ger than before, but also a little humbler. Meaning that we take care of each other better and offer each other more help and support. There are lessons we should learn from this crisis. It might cause us to act on things we should have acted on a long time ago. We need to acknow­ledge both the posi­tive and the nega­tive conse­quen­ces and take appro­priate action.

Let’s talk about the Freude herrscht foun­da­tion. You formed the Freude herrscht foun­da­tion in 2010 in memory of your son Mathias A. Ogi, who passed away. The foun­da­tion aims to get child­ren and young people inte­res­ted in sport and exer­cise. You support projects and orga­ni­sa­ti­ons that promote sport for child­ren and teen­agers and health program­mes for young people. What does this crisis mean for the foundation?

We are defi­ni­tely going to be conti­nuing our work. We are doing ever­y­thing we can to make sure the foun­da­tion is in a finan­cial posi­tion to survive the coro­na­vi­rus crisis and conti­nue to give thou­sands of child­ren in Switz­er­land the gift of fun and games. We want to foster soli­da­rity and take child­ren out into nature and the coun­try­side. We will conti­nue to make a diffe­rence – maybe even a bigger one than before. Our board of trus­tees is convin­ced of that. Parti­cu­larly in the after­math of the crisis, we want to give support to those who need it. We want to teach young people important lessons about how to live along­side each other in the future, and offer support in areas where child­ren tend to be forgot­ten about. The board of trus­tees will be laun­ching new concepts and projects. 

You can feel the enthu­si­asm and desire to keep going? You support around 80 events every year. What has been the impact of the coro­na­vi­rus crisis on your events?

Unfort­u­na­tely, we have had to cancel the ski day with Matthias Glar­ner, the king of Swiss wrest­ling. He’s been an important ambassa­dor of the Freude herrscht foun­da­tion. We’ve had an arran­ge­ment with him for four years. Every year, he invi­tes two Swiss school clas­ses for a day of skiing. We orga­nise trans­port to the Meirin­gen-Hasli­berg cable car, which takes the child­ren up to the moun­ta­ins free of charge. Matthias Glar­ner pays for their lunch – tradi­tio­nal Swiss macaroni. 

The Bern Grand Prix, one of the largest running events in Switz­er­land, was cancel­led. Freude herrscht has been invi­ting child­ren from the Lötschen­tal valley to this event since the foun­da­tion began – child­ren who wouldn’t other­wise be conside­red for this kind of event. They take part in the run, and after­wards we have lunch toge­ther in Café Fede­ral and watch the best runners as they cross the Bundes­platz square. Before taking them back to Lötschen­tal valley, we also visit the Parlia­ment Buil­ding. Sport, connec­tion, history and poli­tics – all in one day. And, of course, there are lots of other smal­ler events we have not and will not be able to hold. But once this crisis is over, we want to start putting smiles on lots of children’s faces again. We’re doing our best to make sure that happens.

Do you see the work you do as a foun­da­tion as buil­ding a bridge between the generations?

Our orga­ni­sa­tion focu­ses on child­ren. Of course, you often see grand­par­ents accom­pany­ing their grand­child­ren. We feel a lot of respon­si­bi­lity towards parents in parti­cu­lar, which is why we make sure we involve them. This is very important to us. The child­ren need to be taken properly into our care and retur­ned to their parents after­wards. We want people to know that we take this respon­si­bi­lity very seriously. So these moments are often a time when the gene­ra­ti­ons meet. 

How is your board of trus­tees made up? The diffi­culty of finding board members is always an issue.

That’s not a problem for our foun­da­tion. Our board members are mainly friends and contem­po­r­a­ries who studied with my son Mathias – people from his athle­tics circle, people we know as a family. There are curr­ently nine of us, and we don’t really want to be any larger. We also have lots of ambassa­dors, like Bern­hard Russi, Matthias Glar­ner and Tanja Frie­den. And we have a fanta­stic admi­nis­tra­tive team and great manage­ment. I’d like to take this oppor­tu­nity to say that without Matthias Kuratli, who, because of a pain­ful perso­nal loss of his own, brings the right level of sensi­ti­vity, and Sandra Palli, we would not be able to do what we do. Toge­ther with us, they have the right instincts for taking the foun­da­tion in the right direction. 

You need the right people with the right dedication.

In our case, all our board members are people who knew our son Mathias while he was alive, and that forms a strong foun­da­tion of trust. I think it’s safe to say that ever­yone who lived along­side Mathias, inclu­ding those who were with him in the mili­tary, always tell me that he was very upstan­ding and unpre­ten­tious – despite being the son of a Fede­ral Coun­cil­lor, which can’t always have been easy for him.

The Freude herrscht Foun­da­tion, Nordic Arena | Image: zVg

The Freude herrscht Foundation

Freude herrscht was foun­ded in 2010 in memory of Mathias A. Ogi. The Bernese lawyer and sports­man Mathias A. Ogi died at the age of 35 of a rare form of cancer.
The foun­da­tion aims to inspire child­ren and young people to engage in sport and exer­cise. As a chari­ta­ble foun­da­tion, it supports around 80 projects and orga­niza­ti­ons in children’s and youth sports as well as programs to promote the health of child­ren and young people every year.
On 18 Septem­ber 2018, the Gott­lieb Dutt­wei­ler Insti­tute in Rüsch­li­kon was deligh­ted to receive the Adele Dutt­wei­ler Prize worth CHF 100,000. The award is presen­ted every two years by Migros to indi­vi­du­als and orga­ni­sa­ti­ons that have made a special contri­bu­tion in the social field.

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