Contributed by Edmond Dounias, Congress Coordinator

Inevitable Unforeseen

When, in July 2008, we brought to Cusco the application of Montpellier to host the 13th Congress of the ISE in 2012, we did not anticipate 5 major events:

  • Montpellier Congress Logo_lrgThe French presidential elections to fall in early May 2012,
  • An unprecedented and worldwide economic crisis,
  • The worst weather conditions for the season over the past 20 years (May in Montpellier is usually hot and sunny),
  • The soccer team of Montpellier winning the 2012 French championship for the first time in the history of the city, and
  • The UN took the decision to organize Rio + 20 just a few weeks after the Congress.

These first four events had a fairly negative impact on the preparation and the running of the Congress.

The French elections and the economic crisis significantly affected our capacity to raise funding and institutional support from the French authorities. During the six months that preceded the elections, the activities of the ministries drastically decreased and nobody wanted to commit to a decision concerning an event that was going to happen just after elections whose outcomes were uncertain.

The unusual bad weather (chilly with heavy rain) and the victory of the Montpellier soccer team severely affected the “outdoor” stands of the Congress that had been installed on the main esplanade of the city.

The general public was unable to take part in the attractions proposed in the stands due to the 20,000 overexcited supporters converging in the heart of the city to watch the last match of Montpellier’s soccer team on a giant screen (Sunday, May 20) and then the 30,000 people giving an ovation to the victorious players brandishing the cup (Monday, May 21). For obvious security reasons, we were strongly invited by the police to close all the stands in order to prevent vandalism and degradation by uncontrollable hooligans.

The fifth unexpected event had a much more positive influence on the outcomes of the Congress.

In 2010, the UN made the decision to organize Rio+20. Initially planned for early June 2012, the event was postponed for two weeks and was eventually held one month after the Congress. We obtained the support of the Executive Secretary of the United Nations who advertised the Congress on their website, and the perspective of this worldwide conference stimulated the elaboration of a Montpellier statement. Its preparation was enthusiastically initiated by ISE members Jan Salick (Missouri Botanical Garden) and Pablo Eyzaguirre (Bioversity International), and then coordinated and carried forward by ISE Board Member Gleb Raygorodetsky.

In the end, even if some details inevitably did not run as expected, the Congress came together and was the largest in ISE’s history, with over 700 people from 75 countries in attendance and is considered by the Society as an immense success.

For further details about the congress, please visit the 2012 congress website.