JIMENA SALDAÑA: “WOMEN ARE HEARD LIKE NEVER BEFORE AND WE PLAY A VERY IMPORTANT ROLE IN PANAM SPORTS”
The outstanding Mexican sports leader provides a summary of what her life has been like in the sports world, from the beginning of her career in ANOC in 1984 through today where she serves as the 1st Vice President of the Mexican Olympic Committee and 2nd Vice President of Panam Sports.
She speaks to Panam Sports from Washington, United States, about the role of women in sport, the transformation of PASO into Panam Sports of which she has played a role, her goals in the Olympic Movement and about Mexico’s expectations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Jimena Saldaña is one of those women who shines with her passion for sports. She can be seen sitting in front of the television watching any sports broadcast, attending as many events of the Olympic cycle and as many competitions in the venues that she can, and of course sitting in the stands of the Azteca Stadium with her jersey on and a flag in her hand, cheering on her beloved soccer team “Cruz Azul” with her two children.
She tries not to miss the match of “La Maquina Cementera”, but her travels due to her work as a sport leader often prevent her from attending one of her many passions. “It is a love that my great-grandmother instilled in me. She was a fan of Cruz Azul and from a very young age I went to the Stadium,” Jimena Saldaña said with nostalgia.
The Olympic Movement and everything that surrounds it also represents a passion in her life. Although she acknowledges that goes beyond what she feels about soccer.
“Olympism is a philosophy of life. The Olympic principles, visiting a village and how young people show this spirit, I think that no activity in the world gives you that. Seeing healthy competition and companionship is a wonderful emotion, an indescribable passion,” she adds, indicating that this unconditional love was born “with all the fervor that occurred in Mexico in 1968 when we hosted the Olympic Games.”
HER BEGINNINGS IN THE OLYMPIC MOVEMENT
Having just graduated from Computer Systems Engineering and looking for a job in the newspaper classifieds, she found the possibility of working in an ANOC Assembly in the Mexican capital. She knew languages so she was hired immediately and one of her first functions was to go to the office of Don Mario Vazquez Raña, as the former President of ANOC needed someone who spoke French. She never imagined that, from that day on, she would start a life in sport and especially the Olympic Movement of the Americas. It all began in 1984.
After the ANOC Assembly, she was hired for a few months to assist the Organizing Committee of the Pan American Games of Indianapolis 1987 and on her return, they had everything ready for her to join the Pan American Sports Organization, an organization that saw her grow personally and professionally, becoming the right hand of President Vazquez Raña and reaching the position of Secretary General. An enriching experience that she will never forget.
What was your experience working for so many years at PASO and with Don Mario Vazquez Raña?
“The truth is that it was extremely positive. I learned a lot. He gave me the opportunity to learn about the high politics of sport, but also the great passion he had for sport. And of course, the basic principles that have guided me in life as a manager, such as, for example, that money in sport is always spent on sport. In addition to how to follow the rules, solve problems, find the ways, and how to never lose your compass, always remembering that athletes are at the center of all decisions. He was always a man who had a great capacity for working, and that defines you in life.”
Current President Neven Ilic has always said that he received an Organization that was economically sound, orderly and highly recognized worldwide…
He is very right. PASO became very strong. We had to be very efficient and President Neven Ilic was part of that as well. It was not always a bonanza, but the goal was always to use the money that was in the organization and deliver it to the National Olympic Committees. That philosophy in our continent has always strengthened us and made us set a standard throughout the world, and that is the key for Panam Sports to be a leader in the Olympic Movement.
FROM ODEPA TO PANAM SPORTS: A NECESSARY CHANGE
In order to hold this interview, Jimena asked for it to be on the same morning that her flight landed in Washington, United States. The reason? She would have the whole morning free before she became very busy preparing to take on a new challenge in her professional career, but that she prefers not to spoil anything for now. “I continue as is, happy in the Mexican Olympic Committee and in Panam Sports,” says Jimena.
Last December, she was elected with the great support of the member nations as the 2nd Vice President of Panam Sports, a fact that, of course, fills her with pride and emotion.
What is your opinion of the current state of the Organization that you yourself are a part of and that people are talking about in the Olympic Movement about the modernization of what is now Panam Sports?
I believe that Panam Sports was consolidated with the arrival of President Neven Ilic. Under the leadership of Dr. Maglione and Don Mario Vazquez Raña, we had another dynamic where sometimes not all the tools were used. A very important and necessary step has now been taken. The name, the image, the greater openness to athletes making more decisions, listening to them more, has been changed. Commissions were not used before and President Ilic uses them wonderfully. It is there where decisions are made, people feel very comfortable and there is a lot of openness, and with that there are better results in this dynamic of Panam Sports.
What are the goals that you have set for yourself as a Vice President of Panam Sports?
I would like Panam Sports to continue to set the standard in the world. The presence of women has always been valid. There has been no machismo, and that leaves me very happy and calm. We need to continue innovating as we will this year with the Junior Pan American Games in Cali. We are the best Continental Organization and we must continue working on the sport and our the position of our athletes.
What is your opinion of the important role that women are increasingly acquiring in sports leadership throughout the world?
I am convinced that women in our continent made a difference in the International Olympic Committee. We must never forget that the first women who came to the Executive Committee were the Venezuelan Flor Isava Fonseca and Anita DeFrantz. They set the tone. Our continent has always been the strongest with the presence of women. I think that is the way forward, and now Panam Sports has a President who is very supportive of women, who respects them and has made us feel very important. We had the Women’s Commissions before but it was as if it was there for them to have fun, but not now. We have seen great changes, but there is a lot of work to be done and more women are interested in being part of this great family.
How do you project yourself in the Olympic movement, Jimena? Would you like to become an IOC Member for example?
Yes, of course. It is an aspiration of every sports leader. It has always been a source of pride because there you can influence what the future of Olympism will be. Although, I still believe that from any role you can contribute and help for the development of sport in the world. I don’t feel far from the IOC. You don’t need to get there to contribute to world sport, but I do recognize that I would love to be part of that select group.
FUTURE PRESIDENT OF THE MEXICAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE?
Mexico is one of the countries most affected by COVID-19 on the continent, both in the number of infected and in the number of deaths. Sport has been no stranger to this difficult moment.
Currently, the Mexican Olympic Committee has 47 quotas and 88 athletes qualified for Tokyo 2020, and they expect that number to increase in the coming months.
How do you see the present of Mexican sports?
It has been very strong as the pandemic has hit us. We have dedicated ourselves to supporting our qualified athletes and those who are struggling to make it to Tokyo. As the Executive Committee of the Mexican Olympic Committee we have understood that it is very important that our athletes do not decline, that they receive everything necessary for their preparation. With unity and working hand-in-hand with the Government, we are optimistic that we will move forward.
What is your analysis of the historical participation of the “Tri” at Lima 2019?
A great generation is coming. Both President Carlos Padilla, as well as the entire Executive, we have understood that a new generation of athletes is coming, with a new vision and who are very fierce. They have a thirst for triumph that we had not seen. It started in Buenos Aires and Barranquilla 2018 and of course, it was consolidated in Lima 2019.
What are the goals set for Tokyo 2020 knowing that at Rio 2016, Mexico earned 5 total medals, 2 silver and 3 bronze?
We have always been very careful and we do not like to talk about expectations because it puts a lot of pressure on the athletes. These will be very different Games. They have our full support, and we all want to celebrate all of their achievements. We know that they will do everything humanly possible to bring joy to all of the Mexican people and we are working so that they prepare in the best way possible.
Jimena, we know you have to go to your new office. But we are missing the last question. The elections of the Mexican Olympic Committee are coming, which are planned for the month of November of this year. Are we talking to the future President?
Hahaha (laughs) Well, maybe someday. I believe that the important thing in the Mexican Olympic family is unity. I have talked a lot with President Carlos Padilla, and in that sense, we are going to make decisions according to what we see, feel … but there is always time. And as I have always said, one can help Mexican sports from any role. I have not yet made the decision to run as a candidate. I will think about that in the next few months.