Olympic equestrian and IOC honorary member Flor Isava Fonseca has died at the age of 99. She was the founder of the Venezuelan Equestrian Federation, and one of the first two women to be elected as an International Olympic Committee member in 1981.
Isava Fonseca died on July 25.
IOC President Thomas Bach described Fonseca as “a great lady of Olympic sport”. In 1981, she and Pirjo Häggman were the first women to be elected as IOC members. Isava Fonseca served the organisation in this position for 20 years, and was the first woman to be elected to the Executive Board.
“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,” Bach said. “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.”
Isava Fonseca, who was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1921, studied in France and Belgium. She 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, showjumping, hockey and swimming, the sport in which she became the captain of the national team. She competed in showjumping at the 1956 Olympic Games.
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 the age of 48, she 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. 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 several years, she was the vice-president of the Venezuelan Red Cross, following in the footsteps of her mother, who had been appointed president of this institution years before. She is also an active member of the Venezuelan associated press committee.
For her work in sport and society, Isava Fonseca 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 several 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.
As a mark of respect, the Olympic flag will be flown at half-mast at Olympic House.