Remarks by the First Lady Previewing Trip to the 2012 Olympic Games During Press Conference Call
Via Conference Call
1:13 P.M. EDT
MS. AUGUST: Great. Thank you so much, and thank you to everybody for joining the call today. All of you should already have the schedule for Mrs. Obama's trip that we put out this morning.
Joining us on the call today we have, of course, First Lady Michelle Obama. We also have Ben Rhodes, who is the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. We also have Sam Kass, who is the Senior Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives. We also have key members of our wonderful delegation, Dominique Dawes and Grant Hill, and we have Kevin Dowdell from the USTA who is also going to talk.
So I will turn it over to the First Lady.
MRS. OBAMA: Thanks so much, Hannah, and I want to thank everybody for taking time to be on this call. We're very excited about the trip, we're excited about the call, we're excited about all that we're doing but I just wanted to take a moment before we got started because I just want to say how heartbroken Barack and I are about the tragic shootings that took place in Aurora, Colorado on Friday. I would be remiss to mention the incident.
Barack and I, we have seen people -- and so have people around this country -- we've seen people across this country come together as one American family to mourn the victims of this devastating event and to support their friends and families and loved ones. And I know that we'll continue that support in the difficult time ahead. So I know that we are all -- even as we enter the Olympics, this wonderful occasion I know that we are all holding the people of Aurora in our hearts and our prayers. So, again, I just wanted to take a moment to say that.
But I'm also here today to discuss the upcoming Olympic Games, and I am just thrilled to have everyone on the call. We've got Ben and Sam, but I'm so happy that Dominique and Grant are on the line. They have just been tremendous supporters of fitness and health and exercise; they both serve on the President's Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and they've just been active and engaged and involved on so many different levels.
And we also have Kevin Dowdell, who has been doing terrific things in tennis, but, more importantly, we went to college together. And this is how life happens, that all of a sudden we wind up on this phone call together. So, Kevin, it's great to have you on board. You guys are doing terrific things. The commitments you've made have been amazing. And he is going to talk about that a little later in the call.
I am beyond proud to be leading the U.S. delegation to the Opening Ceremony of this year's Olympic Games. And during my visit, in addition to cheering for Team USA, I'm going to have the chance to meet with our Olympic athletes and the folks who work in our embassy in London as well. I'll also be hosting a Let's Move event with American and British students, including American military kids. And that is going to be a ball.
Leading our nation's delegation and traveling to London is truly a dream come true. If anybody had asked me when I was 10 or 11 or 20, or actually 40, whether I would be doing this, I would have bet not. Some of my fondest memories -- when I was young and not so young -- involve watching the Olympics on TV and cheering on Team USA.
And as part of this trip and my Let's Move initiative to solve the problem of childhood obesity, I decided that I wanted to turn that Olympic spirit and inspiration into action by using these games as a way to get more kids up and moving. And that's why I challenged the U.S. Olympic Committee and 10 of its governing bodies to commit to helping 1 million kids get active in their communities this year. And we thought that the goal of 1 million kids was an ambitious target, but our partners not only met that goal, they added another 700,000 more to that commitment. So that means that 1.7 million young people are going to be participating in Olympic and Paralympic sports in their communities this year as a result of these commitments.
So this involves sports like soccer, tennis, swimming and gymnastics. They are expanding their beginner programming and planning exciting events in clinics to engage kids for the very first time in many of these sports.
In addition, in conjunction with the start of the 2012 London games, we've declared July the 28th Let's Move Olympic Fun Day. And this is going to be really cool. On that day, kids and families across the country are going to come together to cheer on Team USA and participate in all kinds of athletic activities in their communities through meetup.com.
So as our Olympic athletes begin to compete in London, they will truly be inspiring a generation of young people to get active and to strive for excellence. And they're going to be reminding us all that being an Olympian isn't just about winning the gold or setting a new record. It's really about pushing yourself. It's about believing in yourself and refusing to give up, no matter what obstacles you might face.
So I am very excited about this trip for so many reasons, but I'm excited that it will serve as a powerful opportunity to send another message to the kids in this country and other countries about the importance of staying fit, learning to compete, staying healthy. And this isn't just about sports, it's about being active.
So we are very excited. And I wish all of the members of Team USA the best of luck in these games. And I truly look forward to cheering them on in London this week.
So with that, I’m going to turn it over to Ben, who’s going to talk a bit about more exciting stuff. And I look forward to being a part of the Olympic tradition. And I want to thank everybody again for joining the call. Take care, and Ben, take it away.
MR. RHODES: Great. Well, thanks, everybody, for joining the call, and, of course, thanks to Mrs. Obama for her leadership and for leading this delegation to a very important event.
Obviously, the Olympics are always a very exciting and -- event for the American people. However, I believe that these Olympics will be even more meaningful to the United States because they are taking place in London. The United Kingdom, of course, is one of our closest allies in the world, and the ties that we have between our countries are deep and enduring. And so having, again, the Olympics hosted by a country that is as close to the United States as any other in the world only heightens the significance of the Olympics.
As you all know, the U.S. and the U.K. work together on just about every issue of interest to our two countries when it comes to national security and the global economy. The U.S. and the U.K. are serving together in Afghanistan as we complete a transition to the Afghans and wind down the war there. The U.S. and the U.K. stood side by side in Libya during our recent intervention where we were able to protect the Libyan people and help bring about the end of the Qaddafi regime. And we cooperate really on every major issue that you can think of -- from counterterrorism to the global economy to international peace and security.
So this, in addition to being an important visit to the Olympics, is another opportunity to reaffirm the special relationship between the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
I’d note that this is in line with a number of visits that we’ve had to the United Kingdom and opportunities we’ve had to host British leaders here in the United States. The Obamas have traveled twice to the U.K. -- first, in 2009 for the very important G20 meeting that was hosted in London in which President Obama came together with world leaders to help rescue the global economy. And Mrs. Obama, of course, was able to do some very exciting and meaningful outreach to the British people.
It includes, of course, the state visit that President Obama and Mrs. Obama made to the U.K. in 2011 when, again, they were able to both have a series of meetings with the leaders of the U.K. They were able to be hosted by Her Majesty, the Queen, and were also able to do some important outreach to the people of the United Kingdom.
And earlier this year, we reciprocated that state visit by having a very successful visit to the United States by Prime Minister and Mrs. Cameron that included an event in which the First Lady and Mrs. Cameron were able to have Olympic athletes and Paralympic athletes engage in some activities for some of the local children here in the Washington, D.C. area.
I’d just say a couple of words about how the First Lady’s events build on the special relationship between our two countries. First of all, Sam will follow me and discuss the Let’s Move event, but the First Lady will be able to visit with our staff at the embassy. This is one of our most important embassies in the world, and every time we’re able to thank our civilians and other embassy personnel for their service, it’s a very meaningful opportunity.
The First Lady will also be attending the reception that the Queen is hosting for heads of delegation, which will give her an opportunity, of course, to pay her respects to the Queen and also to meet with the range of other heads of delegation, which includes a variety of heads of state and other important personalities from around the world who will be converging on London for the Olympic games.
She’ll be meeting with Samantha Cameron, and she’ll also be meeting with some of the military families -- U.S. military families that are serving in the United Kingdom in keeping with her focus on military families as a top priority through the Joining Forces initiative.
I’d just say one other point about both her meeting with Mrs. Cameron and her visit with the military families. In large part, because of the initiative that she -- the First Lady and Mrs. Cameron have taken together, the U.S. and the U.K. have worked together to lift up the issue of how are we caring for our troops, our veterans and our military families.
And out of some of our earlier meetings, we established last year a U.S.-U.K. task force on our Armed Forces personnel, veterans and military families. And the purpose of this task force, which has met a number of occasions since then, is to share best practices; in some instances, to have personnel travel to each country and discuss how we can improve our care for wounded warriors, how we can improve the way in which our military personnel transition into civilian life and seek greater opportunities in civilian life.
It also includes a focus on how are we caring for those who suffer from mental health injuries, given that this has been a signature wound for both U.S. and U.K. personnel in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course, it builds on the work that the First Lady has done on the Joining Forces initiative to, again, engage in a discussion about best practices for how our communities can support military families.
So we’ll once again have an opportunity to spotlight our joint efforts in terms of how we’re standing by our troops who served together in Iraq and Afghanistan, how we’re caring for our veterans, and how both the United States and the United Kingdom are providing support for our military families.
So the bottom line is I think it’s important to underscore that while this visit is about the Olympics, it’s also about advancing the close ties between the U.S. and the United Kingdom -- ties that are about the close cooperation between our governments, but also about the deep bonds between our people. And the President and Mrs. Obama have done a lot of work since they took office, again, to reach out to our closest allies, to reaffirm the bonds that our alliances depend upon, but also to reach out to publics. And Mrs. Obama, again, has been to do that on her travel to the United Kingdom in the past, and so therefore her events I think will build on a record of reaching out to cooperate with the government of the United Kingdom but also to speak directly to the people of the United Kingdom, as well.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Sam, who can say a few words about the Let's Move event in particular.
MR. KASS: Thank you, Ben. And thanks, everybody, for being on the call.
The First Lady has really seen the Olympics as obviously an amazing moment for the nation and for the world, but also an incredible opportunity to rally around the health and wellbeing of our kids and utilize all the excitement around the games to inspire our kids to move more. So we have been hard at work at that for many, many months.
The First Lady -- we started a lot of this work hosting a mini Olympics with -- a while back in the spring to get our kids starting to get excited. She spoke at the Wounded Warrior Games, their opening ceremony, and has announced a really exciting national initiative to have fun days through meetup.com, which will get communities active all over the country. So right now we have already almost 200 cities and towns and communities that have signed up to do events to really give kids opportunities to play and be active in the theme of the Olympics, and we’re encouraging many, many more to join.
And the partnership and commitment from the USOC and the governing bodies are really groundbreaking efforts to expand programming in communities all over the country, particularly for those kids who don't have access to sport and play opportunities, and give them very positive experiences about being active, which can have a transformative impact on kids for the rest of their lives. So we're very grateful that we're going to touch 1.7 million children in this next year alone and continue that work from there. So all of this is leading up to what will be an amazing few days in London, highlighting our young people.
So Let's Move in particular will have two great opportunities. On Friday, the 27th, we are -- the first day we'll be going to the U.S. Olympic training facility at the University of East London to meet with many of our athletes and have a chance to honor them and thank them for their service to the nation. And then we will be going to the Ambassador's residence later that morning to have what will be an incredible Let's Move London event where we'll have about a thousand kids, American and British kids, and incredible lineup of athletes, of entertainers, including -- even SpongeBob will be there. And it's going to be an amazing day of fun that actually gets kids out moving and running around and playing in a very diverse set of stations, with a lot of excitement, which will hopefully send a lot of these young people on their way to living active, healthier lives.
So we're very grateful to all of the partners -- it's too long of a list to even begin, but I think everybody has it -- their efforts to make this day possible, especially Nickelodeon and others who are really putting on a lot of effort here. And it's going to be an amazing day. So we're really excited to get there and run around with the kids.
So, with that, I will give it back to Hannah and I look forward to taking your questions.
MS. AUGUST: We have two members of the First Lady's delegation on the line. As everybody knows, the First Lady will be joined in London by Brandi Chastain, Dominique Dawes, Gabriel Diaz de Leon, Grant Hill and Summer Sanders. And we have Dominique and Grant on the line now. So I'd like to turn it over first to Dominique.
MS. DAWES: Well, thank you, Hannah. I'm very excited to be a member of the First Lady's Olympic delegation, as well as being the co-chair of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. I know as a veteran athlete, I just know how important it is for Americans to support fellow Olympians that are competing in the sport. And so, to be there at the opening ceremonies with the First Lady's delegation, as well as helping out in a number of Let's Move events will be an honor for me.
I've been focusing on health, fitness and wellness since I retired 12 years ago, and kids are a targeted group that I'm very passionate about. So to have an opportunity to work with these young kids and teach the importance of physical activity and nutrition I truly think will leave a lasting and a positive impact.
So, again, I'm thrilled to be a part of this delegation. And I do believe that during these Olympic years it's also a great time for young kids to watch these different sports that are so popular, like gymnastics or basketball, or track and field, but to maybe look at table tennis, diving, or even trampoline, because those may be sports that they have an interest in, a passion for and a talent in, and that might be the next fitness activity that they may shine in, hopefully in the future.
MS. AUGUST: Thank you so much. And Grant, I'll turn it over to you next.
MR. HILL: Thank you, Hannah. Just like Dominique, I'm very thrilled, excited and honored to be a part of this First Lady's delegation to the Olympics in London. I, as well, am on the President's Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. And it's just a tremendous honor.
When I think of the Olympics, to me the Olympics embodies everything that the First Lady, with her initiative, the Let's Move campaign, it's really what it's all about. I remember as a child vividly watching the '84 Olympics and being enthralled and motivated and inspired by the commitment and the excellence of those athletes, and, like Dominique, having the opportunity to participate in the Olympics and to now -- to now watch as a veteran these great athletes, it will continue to motivate and inspire me.
So I am forever grateful and thankful, and I'm looking forward to participating in the Let's Move event, and watching and getting to know a lot of these great Olympic athletes firsthand.
MS. AUGUST: Great. Thank you so much, Grant.
And both Mrs. Obama and Sam touched on the 1.7 million commitment from USOC and the different Olympic sports, so we have Kevin Dowdell from the USTA on the line to just give us a little bit of a flavor about what that means and what's happening on the ground. And USTA has been a tremendous partner in this effort. So I'll turn it over to Kevin.
MR. DOWDELL: Sure. Thank you, Hannah.
The USTA is honored to participate in the First Lady's Let's Move campaign, and I have to say I'm personally honored to support the First Lady as a friend and a former classmate.
Childhood obesity is a vital issue for all Americans, and the USTA wants to be a big part of that solution. Introducing kids to the lifetime sport of tennis makes a lasting difference in the lives of children and it supports the goals of the Let's Move campaign as well. And we're really excited about how the Olympics can energize us all to be even more active.
Tennis has grown dramatically over the last 10 years, and now the USTA is focused on attracting even more youth to our sport. For example, the USTA Ten and Under Initiative, which uses smaller courts and slower, lower-bouncing balls, will introduce the game to hundreds of thousands of new kids this year alone. And that's real. It's happening all around the country.
Many tennis centers, including the Montgomery TennisPlex facility we're building in Germantown, Maryland, and which opens in September, use innovative new USTA programs like tennis play days and kids tennis clubs to introduce young players to the sport. Tennis, like many sports, is holistic in the sense that it leads to improved academic performance and character development in addition to enhancing fitness and habits of good health. So schools are an important place for the USTA to spread the word.
Many elementary schools in the Germantown area offer physical education just once a week. So tennis play days and kids tennis clubs are especially important. As an example of the pent-up demand for additional activities, we held a pilot program in Germantown's Spark Matsunaga Elementary School in May. We weren’t even open and we held it in the gymnasium, and it sold out in about 48 hours. Further, we anticipate that hundreds of Matsunaga's thousand students will enroll in tennis programs after we open them this September.
When we had our pilot last spring, many of the parents were afraid that the programs would already be sold out in September. And that demand and energy is why thousands of tennis facilities like ours throughout the U.S. are joining to engage 750,000 youths in USTA programs to support the USOC's larger commitment to introduce 1.7 million kids to Olympic sports in 2012, as you've heard. We know that so many kids will be inspired by this summer's Olympic Games, and we look forward to turning that inspiration into action by getting more kids out on the courts.
MS. AUGUST: Great. Thank you so much. And with that, the First Lady has to depart. But we will open it up to questions for Ben, Sam, Dominique, Grant, or Kevin.
Q Hi. My question -- is the First Lady Michelle Obama going to meet Queen Elizabeth II?
MR. RHODES: Well, this is Ben Rhodes. I'm happy to take the question. The First Lady will be meeting with Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth is hosting a reception for all the heads of delegation from around the world. And so, the First Lady will be attending in her capacity as head of the delegation.
I'd also note, again, during the state visit to the United Kingdom that the President and the First Lady did in 2011, they were hosted at Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth and very much appreciated the extraordinary hospitality and the chance to meet with the Queen there, and were able to reciprocate that by hosting the Queen at a dinner in her honor at the U.S. Ambassador's Residence in London shortly after that dinner.
So they were able to have that very special time with the Queen, who they have a great deal of regard for. And then, recently, President Obama was honored to extend his greetings and congratulations to the Queen on her 60th anniversary of taking the throne through a video message and a message he delivered to the Queen and her subjects.
So the First Lady will have a chance to meet with the Queen. And, again, that builds on I think what has been a very valuable experience for them in terms of being able to interact with her, and, again, to reaffirm the fact that she really stands for the endurance of the relationship between the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Again, her six decades of rule are a period of time in which the bonds between our nations have only grown stronger. And this Olympics, again, will be an opportunity to reaffirm that.
Q Hi. Thank you so much for taking my call. I really appreciate it. I’m curious about the meet-ups. Do you have a number on how many meet-ups are in place for the Olympic launch, and what activities families can do if they're not able to attend one of the meet-ups?
MR. KASS: So right now we’re approaching -- we’re almost at 200. We expect that number to continue to grow throughout the week as we’re going to continue to add some excitement to it and as communities are becoming aware.
And communities are going to be doing all kinds of different events from hosting mini-Olympic events, little sporting events, getting together to cheer on the athletes. It’s going to take on many different forms. And I think -- look, every family can host their own little Olympic party and use it as a great opportunity to get outside, to go to a park, to do races, to do swimming, to do basketball, anything you can think of.
So I think -- it doesn't have to be formally in the meet-up frame, but the inspiration that the Olympics provides is what we’re really trying to use in every way imaginable.
Q Thank you so much.
Q Hi. Thanks so much for taking my question. This question is for Dominique. This is the first year that there’s more female athletes than male athletes on the U.S. Olympic Team, and I just kind of wanted to get your thoughts on, growing up, I guess how far the female movement has come in the Olympics in your time, coming up through the system and now since you’ve retired?
MS. DAWES: Yes, well, Title IX has played a huge role in that. This year is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, and it has opened up a number of opportunities for females in sports. And I would have to definitely give applause to all of those pioneers -- those female and male pioneers that have really pushed for Title IX to make sure that women are given equal opportunity.
One of my fellow council members is Billie Jean King, and she does substantial work in ensuring that girls are given the opportunities to play and enjoyable opportunities to play. And I’m very excited to hear that us women are taking advantage of those opportunities. It’s not about having a higher percentage than the males; it’s just us embracing this opportunity and using it to reach our full potential and to help us up to the best of our abilities.
MS. AUGUST: Thank you. And we just have time for one last question.
Q Hi. I guess this question is for Sam: Has there been any effort made to serve healthy, kid-friendly food at the Olympics?
MR. KASS: At the Olympics more broadly, I can’t speak to, but for our Let’s Move London event, absolutely. We’ll be having water and we’ll be having some healthy granola bars and we’ll be having some nuts and other very healthy treats. So, yes.
MR. KASS: Everywhere we go, we try to make sure we’re giving our kids healthy options.
Q Great. Thank you.
MS. AUGUST: Well, thank you all so much for joining the call. Again, we look forward to the trip to London. And if anybody has any follow-up, the best way is going to be to email FirstLadyPress@who.eop.gov. Thank you so much.
1:42 P.M. EDT