It is with great sadness that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has learnt of the death of IOC Honorary Member Flor Isava Fonseca, at the age of 99.
A member of the Venezuelan Olympic equestrian team at the Olympic Games in 1956, she was a pioneer in the promotion of gender equality in sport as one of the first two women elected as IOC Members in 1981 – serving the organisation in this position for 20 years – and the first female member of the IOC Executive Board (EB), from 1990 to 1994.
IOC President Thomas Bach said: “Ms Flor Isava Fonseca was a great lady of Olympic sport. As one of the first female Members of the IOC and the first female EB member, she was a strong promoter of the Olympic values in her home country, Venezuela, and beyond. She was very well appreciated, in particular for all the many initiatives she undertook with regard to education through sport. The entire Olympic Movement will remember her as a personality with a great human touch.”
Born in Caracas in 1921, she studied in France and Belgium. Isava Fonseca had a Bachelor of Arts and a Master’s degree in modern languages, and worked as a journalist and an author, but her passion for sport developed as soon as she returned to her native country in 1939 and devoted herself to tennis, equestrian sport, hockey and swimming, the sport in which she became the captain of the national team.
She was a national champion in equestrian and tennis, and won a silver medal in the latter at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Baranquilla, Colombia, in 1946. Later, at 48 years of age, she also took up golf, reaching the highest levels in national competitions.
In 1947, Isava Fonseca founded the Venezuelan Equestrian Federation, of which she was President from 1962 to 1965. She was a member of the National Olympic Committee from 1964 to 1968 (joining the Board of Directors in 1965); President of the Sports Confederation of Venezuela from 1977 to 1981; and a sports advisor to the President of the Republic from 1989 to 1995.
A daughter of two philanthropists, Isava Fonseca was very much committed to charity herself. The holder of a diploma from the Venezuelan Red Cross, in 1990 she established a foundation bearing her name to offer education and sport to male and female prisoners and disadvantaged communities in Caracas.
For her work in sport and society, she received numerous awards, including the Order of the Liberator in Venezuela (1990), the Order of Civil Merit in Spain (1992), the title of Knight of the Legion of Honour in France (2001) and the Olympic Order (2002).
At the IOC, in addition to being a member of the Women and Sport Commission from 1995 to 2001, Isava Fonseca also contributed to the following commissions: International Olympic Academy and Olympic Education (1981-1991), Olympic Movement (1991-1994) and Centennial Olympic Congress – Congress of Unity, Study (1994-1996).
In 2016, in recognition of her achievements in the advancement of gender equality in sport, she was chosen as one of the faces of the One Win Leads to Another programme, created by the IOC and UN Women to build the leadership skills of adolescent girls through sport.
The IOC expresses its deepest sympathies to Flor Isava Fonseca’s family. As a mark of respect, the Olympic flag will be flown at half-mast at Olympic House.