RIO – Retired Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Angela Ruggiero was officially named to the Executive Board of the IOC on Thursday afternoon in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the start of the Summer Olympics.
She replaces outgoing German fencer Claudia Bokel. The position complements Ruggiero’s being named Chair of the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission three days ago, a position also held by Bokel. Ruggiero is the first athlete from ice hockey to assume the most important position an athlete can hold within the administrative ranks of the IOC.
She joins the IOC's Executive Board at the same time René Fasel, IIHF president, leaves, his own term having expired.
“He gave me my last medal in 2011 before I retired,” Ruggiero recalled. “René’s leadership has been inspiring, and I hope I can represent hockey with the same pride now that he is leaving.”
“I am very proud to have Angela as the voice for hockey at the Board," said Fasel. "Her leadership, energy, and experience will be a tremendous asset to the IOC, and in her role as Chair of the Athletes' Commission she will prove an excellent voice for all the athletes within the Olympic Movement.”
The Athletes’ Commission is to the boardroom what the Olympics is to athleticism on the field of play, so when Ruggiero was named its Chair, it marked an historic moment for the American hockey star.
Ruggiero started with the AC in 2010 and has now served six years of her eight-year term, most recently as Vice-Chair. Thus, she will be the Chair for the next two years. Another hockey player, Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser, joined the AC in 2014 and will leave in 2022.
“The Athletes’ Commission is a representative body for all athletes in all sports within the IOC, and as such it gives the athletes a voice in the IOC,” a proud Ruggiero said by phone from Rio last night. “This is an important body that contributes to the IOC with support and recommendations. It has a full vote in the decision-making process.”
And in light of recent criticism of the IOC regarding the Russian doping scandal and the preparations for the Rio Games, Ruggiero displays the qualities that make her an ideal Chair, willing to tackle the challenge rather than deny its existence.
“I’m a ‘glass half full’ kind of person, so what I see is that there is meaningful work to be done,” she explained. “If there is a crisis, we now have the opportunity to change and to establish a new credibility. The voices of the athletes will be heard. We can effect change.”
The Athletes’ Commission is an umbrella organization that has huge trickle-down effect. “It allows us to serve on ALL commissions,” Ruggiero states. “For instance, I’m on the AC for the IIHF, under René. Other Commissions include the World Olympic Association, World Athletes’ Forum, WADA, the Youth Olympics, the Paralympics. We can be the voice at the table in so many ways. We represent all sports.”
The position will be a demanding one, but Ruggiero is up to the task. “I’ll be on the Executive Board, which meets quarterly, and I’ll do a lot more travelling. It will probably require 150 days a year. It’s pretty intense, but it’s very rewarding and fulfilling.”
Ruggiero was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015 after an international career that included Olympic gold and four Women’s Worlds gold medals. The induction and recent nominations, though, represent different kinds of success.
“After I retired, I was very busy,” she related. ”I went back to school and earned a degree from the Harvard School of Business. I did everything I could not to think about being retired. But although I think I had a few years left to play, I was so interested in hockey outside just playing. When I got the call to the Hall, it was unbelievable. It made me stop and think about my career, my first love, which was playing the game. It allowed me to reflect and appreciate that time. But it’s such a different thing from the Executive Committee and Athletes’ Commission.”
In addition the her positions within the IOC, Ruggiero is also the chief strategy officer for Los Angeles 2024 as she tries to help bring the Games back to where it was last held in 1984. Her name is household among hockey players and women and Americans, but it is about to have a global reach that could have a lasting impact far more profound than she ever might have imagined when she first put on a pair of skates.