Be true to yourself 

When Kit McConnell graduated from Massey University with a Master of Business Studies receiving first-class honors in management in 1996, he wrote to several major sports organizations – including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), FIFA, the New York Yankees, Manchester United, and the International Rugby Board (IRB) – asking about internships. An exciting reply from the IOC launched Kit’s career in international sport management. 

Massey opened that door 

Kit, a national of Australia and New Zealand, is the IOC’s Sports Director and a recognized leader in the sports industry in planning, managing, and delivering major sporting events. 

Growing up in a sports-minded family, Kit has always been keen on sport, both on and off the field. It was Massey’s Master of Business Studies and Sport Management that called to him in the 1990s when his father, Robin McConnell, lectured in Sport Management at Massey’s Albany campus. 

Kit McConnell with father Robin
Kit McConnell with father Robin
Kit McConnell with father Robin
Kit McConnell with father Robin

“It was a great opportunity to explore and get a qualification that might lead to a job in sport at that time, doing something that I found interesting,” Kit says. 

After completing the two-year master’s program at Massey, Kit’s academic achievements and practical sports involvement led to him being selected for employment at the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland. 

“Massey certainly created the opportunities, and I don’t think I would have been accepted for the IOC internship without studying the fantastic program there, which in turn triggered my whole professional pathway.” Kit reflects that Massey has a great learning environment. The course was highly interactive, and the small group of students meant everyone was there for the same reason and passionate about what they were doing. 

From there, Kit made leaps and bounds in the sports sector.  

He joined the International Olympic Committee Sport Department in 1996, then moved to the Sydney 2000 Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) in 1998 and 1999 as Manager, Sport Competition. 

He rejoined the IOC as its Operations Manager of Sport Competition from 2000 to 2002, where he was responsible for coordinating sports planning for the Olympic Games and relations with all Olympic International Federations. Following that, he joined the International Rugby Board (IRB). Two years later, he was elevated to Head of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) and RWC Tournament Director, overseeing Rugby World Cup Ltd.’s operational delivery in France in 2007 and New Zealand in 2011. Kit was based in London for RWC 2015. 

In 2014, Kit reconnected with the IOC, and he was appointed as its new Sports Director. Kit leads the work of the IOC in their relations with the International Federations and the Local Organising Committees on the delivery of sport during the Olympic Games. In this role, his responsibilities include supporting athlete-focused programs on behalf of the IOC and the Olympic Movement, which aim to help athletes both on and off the field of play. 

It feels like home 

After three times with the IOC, how does it feel? “I understood in the discussions that in many ways I wouldn’t come back to the same organization I had left, while it does feel like home there.” Kit found the organization had continued to evolve when rejoining the IOC for the third time. “It was a more innovative, embracing organization that I came back to in 2014. It is extremely professional and encouraging for all staff to contribute to achieving the vision and being creative.”  

Working with the IOC creates an incredible sense of pride in Kit as he can be involved in something that influences lives worldwide, particularly among athletes. 

“Being an Olympian inspires a person from the very beginning, and once they have achieved their dream of participating in the Olympic Games, that stays with them for the rest of their lives.”  

Excellence, friendship, and respect, the three values of the Olympics, have always been rooted in Kit’s heart. He believes the Olympic rings, the IOC, and the Olympic Games are still among the most recognized symbols globally; many people worldwide are able to identify what the Olympic rings are and what they mean.  

“We have to reflect the values of the Olympic Movement and the Olmypic Games, and we think about respect and friendship, the value of sport, the importance of sport, and the togetherness that it brings. Throughout COVID-19, we could still bring together athletes from 206 countries worldwide with incredibly diverse journeys to get there, but give them the world’s greatest sporting stage and an outstanding Olympic experience.” Kit takes Tokyo Olympics as an example – there were 11,000 athletes in Tokyo, which is incredibly unique in this world to have that diversity in one place.  

Recognizing heritage  

Born in Australia and growing up in New Zealand, Kit considers himself a New Zealander and an Australian.  

“It’s a blend, and I think it’s important that people always stay true to who they are and where they come from. For me, it’s been vital,” Kit says. 

Kit believes New Zealand has exceptional traits, which he has still maintained. Holding senior management and professional positions globally, a sense of identity has always been there. “I think these traits are recognized throughout the world, and as soon as you say you’re from New Zealand, you invariably get a positive reaction. Although New Zealand is a small country and geographically remote in terms of the world map, at the same time, that’s what makes it special.  

Look at the number of New Zealanders who have achieved success on the international stage relative to the population. It’s a testament to the culture and mentality of the country.”  

Looking to the future  

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the sports sector, affecting those who participate and the organizations that provide play, active recreation, and sports services. 

“Sport has an even more important role to play in the post-coronavirus world.” Kit emphasizes the importance of sport at a social level – people come together to watch sport and play sport, and sport is also critical for our wellbeing, both physically and mentally. 

“There is the understanding now of mental health being as important as physical health. All the lockdowns, the uncertainties, and the challenges that came with the pandemic, only accelerated the awareness of mental health more widely.”  

“It is vital for everyone to be involved in sport, regardless of their age.” For Kit personally, he feels better physically and mentally after a run or workout. 

Many students and alumni are currently pursuing opportunities in the sports sector. Kit shares his advice – 

“Keep the passion and know why you’re doing it. Then you’ve got to be prepared to put in all of the hard yards, the long hours, the dedication, that 99% that no one ever sees, no one hears about. Never lose that passion, that focus, that pride in what you do and the ability you have to change people’s lives.”