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Dölf Ogi is not only a former Federal President of Switzerland but is one of the most beloved in the country’s history. He has inspired Olympic victories for the Swiss, has done much for the country’s professional sports… the Olympic slogan pretty much describes his life’s principles. A man of the people tempered by the mountains and someone who follows the laws of nature, a sound mind in a sound body – that is him. My conversation with Adolf Ogi was about how the Swiss temperament was toughened up.
– Mr. Ogi, our magazine is titled Swiss Health Magazine, and you had to deal with the issue in one way or another at a national level – both as President of Switzerland and as Minister of Sports, as well as in other governmental positions. In your opinion, are the Swiss a healthy nation?
– ‘Healthy’ is a relative term, and health can always be improved, with the help of physical activity, up-to-date healthcare, quality surgery, etc. – if all that improves, the health of the nation as a whole will improve with it. In general, the Swiss are healthy people, although, of course, much more work might be done in this field. But the people have to take care of their health too: to be more physically active, not to consume too much nicotine, alcohol, etc. One has to take care of one’s health on a daily basis.
– According to statistics, the Japanese still have a longer lifespan than the Swiss…
– That is down to the specifics of nutrition: traditional Japanese food is healthier than Swiss food.
– When you were the Minister of Sports, did you manage to implement everything you wanted to?
– I did everything possible politically: for example, I introduced three obligatory hours of sports activities into the schools’ curricula. It was not simple: in Switzerland, each canton has its own rules regarding school rules. It took me a lot of effort to break through that. Another positive point, in my opinion, is that school students now have a choice of different kinds of sports at school: running, swimming, and cycling – these three kinds of sports have to be encouraged.
New facilities were installed at Magglingen Sport Center, and now it is probably the best sports school in the world. As the Minister of Sports, I managed to solve many issues. I also tried to contribute to the development of professional sports, and I am very glad that I managed to get a new political / sporting point of legislation, according to which sport was recognized as a fundamental issue of life, society and the State, approved by the Federal Council.
One of the issues with which I am concerned is that the Swiss healthcare system is growing in cost: insurance companies, as well as healthcare itself, are becoming more and more expensive. The government has to keep track of the issue, so that the country doesn’t find itself in a situation whereby people cannot afford medical insurance and services.
– In occupying high governmental positions, and all the more as the country’s leader, it is easy to let one’s health decline. What did you do to maintain your health? What was your personal health regime?
– Each morning I woke up at 4:45am, and that was really hard because my working day lasted for between 16 and 18 hours and I couldn’t go to sleep before midnight. In the morning, I made it a rule that I would go for a walk or a run for a whole hour. Given our geographical latitude, it is still dark at 5:00 in the morning for 5 months of the year. But one has to be ready for such a regime; one has to be used to discipline. Of course, it is hard to expect such commitment from all of the people, but such a daily regime helped me to stay mobile. To be a member of the Federal Council means spending days and nights on duty. In the years of my presidency I was working until I was fit to drop, on the edge of exhaustion.
– Which heath traditions do you have in your family? What have you taken from your parents?
– My father greatly influenced the formation of my personality. When I tried alcohol when I was 13, my father told me, “That won’t do”. When afterwards I tried smoking, he told me once again that it wouldn’t do. And that turned out to be enough for me: since that day I have never touched a cigarette. My father didn’t scold or punish me, he just said that it wouldn’t do. His standing was so high in my eyes that his words were enough. He was able to make me understand him thus. But one thing I still cannot resist is sweets…
– So you are one of the Swiss who, according to statistics, eat more than 11 kilograms of chocolate per year?
– I am probably one of them, but I hope that my consumption is in the lower end of this statistic. I try not to abuse the drug that is chocolate. (Laughs)
– So, your father has played a very important role in your life?
– Yes, my father was the most important person for me – and my mother, of course. But my father set the direction of my personal development. In his life he was busy with many kinds of jobs. He was a forest warden, a mountain guide, plus he was engaged in social activities: he was the chair of the school committee, a head of the community. He also headed the ski school in Kandersteg. I was quite a talented skier when I was young. When I was 13, the Americans offered me the chance to study at a downhill speed school in the USA, but my father didn’t allow me to do it: he said that skiing was not a profession, that one couldn’t make a living that way. Therefore I had to learn languages – English, Italian – and continue my studies. In order to pay for my study at the Higher School of Commerce (Ecole Sup.rieure de Commerce) and my accommodation, my father had to work hard as a guide; he went hiking into the mountains with groups many times, and was involved in 70 expeditions. I spent three years in French Switzerland and two years in total in England. That would have been impossible without the support of my mom and dad.
– You do a lot for the youth. What principles do you follow in your work with the new generation?
– Every child between 5 and 15 has to be allowed to make mistakes. It is a very important experience, the school of life. When a young person makes a mistake and receives a ‘red card’, he/she has to draw conclusions, has to learn to react to failure, and that tempers personality. It is a very important factor in growing up.
Sport is also of very great importance for physical development and for the formation of personality – of course, children should engage with it within reasonable bounds and without straining themselves. If a child’s parents have the right approach to this, bravo to them, but if the parents are not reasonable it is hard to influence them. And the child him/herself, in the course of growing up, has to be able to question him/herself: “Who am I? What am I? What am I professionally: am I suited for leadership? Do I want to assume responsibility? Am I ready to take risks? Can I cope with failure?” All of these things have an effect on our health. If a person, starting in his/her early years, is not used to assessing him/herself, to analyzing him/herself, if he/she avoids responsibility and tries to avoid difficulties, is physically unable to bear stress, then there is a high probability that, at a crucial moment, he/she will take the wrong path and adopt the wrong attitude.
– Are you someone who is not afraid to assume responsibility, and therefore achieve success…
– I’m keen on those who lead and make decisions, who are ready to take risks and maybe suffer defeats.
– Since leaving big-league politics you have been active socially and in various spheres of life, including charity. What is the story of the SwissCor fund?
– When I was the chair of the Federal Council, we supported the “Switzerland Opens Its Heart” project, which provided support to children from Eastern Europe who had suffered and needed medical aid. At that time, the Yugoslavian War was going on – thousands dead, hundreds of thousands injured. We started by welcoming children from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo to Switzerland. And as I had once held the position of Minister of Defense, I decided that children would be taken care of at a military hospital. Since then, children have come here 15 times, in groups of 100 each time, and have stayed here for three weeks. Eventually the project grew into the SwissCor fund. In the last 5 years we have provided support to children from Moldavia, one of the poorest countries in Europe. I’ve been there more than once and have seen their living conditions, but today things are changing for the better there. We at the SwissCor fund have made the decision to provide support for them until about 2020 and have also organized a fund in Moldavia. We take care of disabled children, provide them with wheelchairs, prostheses, hearing aids, glasses…
– You also are a co-chair of the EurAsia Heart board of guardians founded by cardiac surgeon Professor Paul Vogt. Mercy missions by Swiss doctors are renowned worldwide. What is important to you in this endeavour?
– When I met Paul Vogt and learned about his missions, I was impressed. I have gone with him to Myanmar and seen a poorly equipped surgical room where he had to work and I watched how professor Vogt, together with his team, conducted a heart operation and saved a child. Simultaneously, he was training local doctors, sharing his practical knowledge and experience. I was really touched and inspired by his activities. Continuity, the principles of progressive development – that is what Swiss specialist are recognized for worldwide, how they can help, how they can make their contribution to the humanitarian development of civilization.
– There is one more fund which is of special importance to you: Freude herrscht, (Happiness rules)…
– For me, projects connected with young people are especially important to me ever since I lost my son (as the result of a disease – Ed.). In memory of Mathias, his friends wanted to pass on his love of life, his energy, his will to live, his readiness to help and his spirit of friendship. The name of the fund is what was told to me by the first Swiss astronaut, Claude Nicollier, whilst orbiting the Earth in 1992: “Happiness rules!”.
I always say that today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow, in all spheres – politics, economics, science, military science, journalism, sports, etc. Therefore, we have to focus on the younger generation, to give them a future and to build a brighter and more peaceful society together.
That is why I also took part in Olympic Champion Johann Olav Koss’ foundation, which supports sporting activities for around 100,000 children in 25 countries.
– And what is your call to the youth to lead a healthy life? I imagine it is not just bodybuilding and fitness, but also something for mental and spiritual health. How can you teach that?
– Put down the gadgets and get back to nature. One simply has to find time for physical activities. This doesn’t just mean sport, but also motion in general, games, spending time in nature, and integrating other spheres of activity into one’s life. And also I think that it is very important to spend your life with other people, to gain experience in teamwork.
We, as a fund, have to support the youth’s development, their work, their interest in sports.
– You enjoy huge popularity in this country. In your opinion, why is this?
– As a matter of fact, my path in politics was not simple. I was not admitted in immediately and I had to break through and endure many critical comments. Honestly, it is difficult for me to explain my popularity.
It is probably connected to the fact that my origins are not moneyed. I was born in a Swiss village in the mountains. Also, I am a self-educated person. I have no higher education, only school, but I can speak French and English. All I have achieved is down to my own hard work.
I graduated from the Higher School of Commerce in La Neuveville. Later on, I headed a little tourist office in Meiringen im Haslital. I was a member of the Ski Union and was awarded the Olympic Order for supporting sports (at the Sapporo Olympics, the Swiss team won 10 medals). I held the position of CEO at the Intersport Schweiz holding. For over 20 years I participated in the country’s social life: I was a member of the Federal Council, I was the leader of a party, I worked at the UN…
– You also call the army your ‘university’.
– Yes, I gave over four years of service to the army, and am very grateful for it.
– And what else contributed to your success in politics?
– I started as an amateur in politics, and the knowledge of how to speak to people, to hear and understand my conversation partner and to establish contacts, played a great role here. For example, when I met important people for the first time, I knew that I would have to make an impression. In giving a bad first impression, you lose immediately. Each conversation has to end in a way that your conversation partner would like to meet you for a second time and to continue communicating.
– And what did you have to sacrifice to promote your career?
– Of course, time which I could have spent with my family. My career caused much inner turmoil for my wife, Katrin. She has always supported me in everything and gave me inspiration and power. When I was a politician, I had to work a lot on the weekends, but I have always tried to spend at least half a day with my family. They could also come to my office in Bern at any time, even if I had visitors.
– And what are the moments in your political life which you most remember?
– Many interesting meetings remain in my memory. The most memorable was with Mitterand. When I was at a conference in Paris, he, being the President of France, invited me to the Elysee Palace. We had a really interesting conversation, between a socialist and burgher; he asked me many questions about my home and about my parents, and then he personally came to visit us in Kandersteg to meet them.
– And how did you come up with the idea of presenting stones and crystals to the leaders of other countries?
– Once, one of the most famous collector of minerals, Caspar Faner, presented me with a crystal which, according to him, brought luck. I always took it with me, and then I presented it to the General Secretary of the UN, Kofi Annan. I had no official present for him at the time.
– And now you have no crystal?
– I have another one now…
– How would you describe the life of Dölf Ogi today?
– Ogi is a man of the mountains. I enjoyed a happy youth, I had a warm family, and I was lucky to have a farseeing father and a loving and understanding wife. I had an active and interesting life in my youth, but I was not spoiled. I didn’t eat honey all the time. And later on I had a real stroke of luck: I was in the right place at the right time. And everyone needs a bit of luck.
The Foundation supports multiple projects and organizations of children’s and youth sports, as well as programs for children and youth healthcare.
We will be glad if you join us in our aspirations. More information on the web-site www.freude-herrscht.ch
Details for bank transfers:
Postkonto 60-259787- 0
IBAN CH88 0900 0000 6025 9787 0
Tel. 031 350 03 70