Executive Insights: Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) | Sports Destination Management

Executive Insights: Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)

An Interview with Jo Mirza, President
Sep 03, 2023 | By: Jo Mirza
Jo Mirza
Jo Mirza

One of the largest, non-profit, volunteer, multi-sport event organizations in the world, the AAU is dedicated exclusively to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs.

The AAU philosophy of “Sports For All, Forever” is now shared by nearly 720,000 members and 150,000 volunteers across 45 sports programs and 55 U.S. districts. The AAU was founded in 1888 to establish standards and uniformity in amateur sport.

Sports Destination Management: What kind of registration numbers did you see for the AAU Junior Olympic Games?

Jo Mirza: More than 14,000 athletes and coaches participated in the 2023 AAU Junior Olympic Games in Des Moines, Iowa from July 26 through August 5. This was the 57th year of the largest multi-sport event for youth in the U.S.

SDM: Are there any events/sports where you have seen particularly strong growth?

Mirza: Track and field remains the largest sport at the Games, followed by swimming. However, trampoline and tumbling grew by 161 percent this year, from 176 athletes in 2022 to 461 this year.

SDM: Were there any new sports this time around, or were any sports eliminated since last time?

Mirza: This year’s event featured 11 different sports competitions: baton twirling, fencing, field hockey, jump rope, karate, sport stacking, swimming, taekwondo, track and field, trampoline and tumbling, and wrestling. There were no new sports added this year.

SDM: Is there an estimated economic impact number for last year’s Games?

Mirza: The AAU Junior Olympic Games is an exciting event for host cities as it brings visitors to the area, enhances tourism, and has a significant economic impact on the localities.

This year’s event is estimated to have brought in $44 million to the Des Moines area. Multiple locations around the area were utilized, including the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex, Drake Stadium at Drake University, and the Wellmark YMCA Downtown Des Moines.

SDM: What does AAU look for in a prospective host for the Junior Olympic Games?

AAUMirza: The AAU looks for prospective hosts that believe in the message of “Sports For All, Forever” and take great interest in supporting youth athletics. To host the AAU Junior Olympic Games, facilities and venues need to be robust and spacious. The facility needs to have up-to-date technology, like internet, spectator seating, restrooms and concessions. The area must also have a college or university level track nearby to accommodate the number of participants and spectators that come for the Games’ largest event.

In addition to that, we need facilities to have adequate parking, be easily accessible from airports, and have the ability to host multiple sport types within a two-week timeframe, as one sport space flips to another quickly.

SDM: How can destinations express interest; is there a competitive bid process, and if so, when do you anticipate that opening?

Mirza: There is a bid process; we did one last year and have awarded the Games out until 2033. At this time, the event won’t be bid out again for several years.

SDM: How does AAU consistently put on great events that see big registration numbers?

Mirza: AAU’s growth and success is due to a combination of factors, not least of which is the support of local organizing committees and sports commissions, partnerships with key local community members, and 135 years of experience in hosting events. Not only has AAU seen huge growth in registration numbers for our events, but our membership in general has grown to more than 770,000 members.

We attribute this to a few different things. One, we pride ourselves on providing an unparalleled event experience that keeps athletes wanting to come back year after year. Two, we offer competitive opportunities so that athletes can test their mettle against others from around the country, and even around the world. And three, we believe in our motto of “Sports For All, Forever” – providing sports experiences to any and all athletes that wish to participate, regardless of skill level. SDM

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