International Olympic Committee
International Olympic Committee
Incorporated: 1894 as the Comité international des jeux olympiques
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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the “supreme authority of the Olympic movement.” It selects venues and otherwise administers a massive sports festival every couple of years, either the Games of the Olympiad held in the summer or the Olympic Winter Games. About four billion people across the world watch the Summer Games on television, yet former president Lord Killanin once called IOC executive board, filled with aristocrats, “the most exclusive club in the world.” The IOC takes in revenues from licensing memorabilia and postage stamps and coins, selling television rights, and selling admission tickets. About a billion dollars a year is taken in; roughly 93 percent of the money is redistributed to the National Olympic Committees, the International Federations that regulate individual sports, and the Organizing Committees from the cities that host the Games.
Baron Pierre de Courbertin, a Frenchman, is considered the father of the Olympic Movement. He became interested in sports as an important element in male education, and believed the athleticism he had seen in English public schools could revitalize the rising generations of his home country.
In 1889, Courbertin toured North American schools, gathering evidence to support his promotion of physical education in France. He came to believe that a rebirth of the Olympics of ancient Greece would ultimately increase the acceptance of sport to a point where it could be introduced into schools. At the time, new archeological discoveries in Olympia were being reported in the press on a regular basis, already helping to introduce the idea into popular consciousness.
Courbertin appealed to nationalism to gain support for the Games in France. The team responsible for the excavations in Greece had been German (led by Heinrich Schliemann). Who better than France to resurrect the ceremony of the ancient and noble tradition?
A group of delegates from foreign sports clubs met at the Sorbonne in Paris in June 1894, ostensibly to discuss amateur athletics. Seventy-eight delegates from ten countries attended. Only at the end of the conference was the business of creating a modern version of the Olympic games of ancient Greece introduced. Several important details were worked out on June 23.
A name for the administrative body, the Comité international des jeux olympiques, was decided, and thirteen members were named to its ranks by Courbertin. Its presidency was to change after every Games. Since the first were to be held in Athens (the second, in Paris), Demetrios Vikelas, a wealthy Greek merchant living in Paris, was named the group’s first president. The congress also adopted its famous motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (swifter, higher, stronger).
One writer, David Young, observes that Courbertin was too busy planning his own wedding to offer much hands-on help to preparations for the first Olympiad. This is flatly contradicted in other accounts. Courbertin is credited with coming up with the famous logo—five interlocked rings in blue, yellow, black, green, and red on a white background—colors found in the flags of all nations across the world.
Among commercial sponsors was Kodak, the photography giant. The 1896 Games were such a success that Greece lobbied to have all future Olympic Games held on its home turf. (It had taken some effort for Courbertin to convince the impoverished Greek government to host the games in the first place.) Courbertin and others dedicated to fostering an international spirit in the Olympics successfully countered this proposal. (Further, Greece dropped out of the Games when Turkey declared war on it in 1897.) Vikelas resigned as president after this dispute in late 1896. Courbertin then served as president until 1925, with the exception of a period between 1916 and 1919 when he served in the French military during the World War I. Godefroy de Blonay of Switzerland, a linguist and Egyptologist, was interim president during this time.
Paris in 1900 was the site of intrigues over who would control the IOC, with the IOC claiming its authority over the administration of the Games, which suffered from a lack of organization both in Paris and in St. Louis in 1904.
By the time of the Athens Games in 1896, the IOC had added two members. A postal vote system was initiated for approving new members in 1902. Participating countries had anywhere from one to three representatives on the IOC. Membership criteria were formalized at the IOC’s Tenth Session in London in 1908. One of the requirements was that members be conversant in one of the IOC’s two official languages, English and French. An executive board, established in 1921, was later tasked with nominating new members. Until 1975, an annual membership fee of 50 to 250 Swiss francs was imposed; those who did not pay were declared démissionaire —expelled, in other words.
The 1908 London Games were more successful than the Athens Games, although strained by political disputes between Russia and Finland, and Great Britain and Ireland. The success continued to Stockholm in 1912, when 2,490 athletes from 28 countries participated. The first methodical attempt to license commemorative memorabilia came at these Stockholm Games. In spite of Courbertin’s efforts, the truces of the ancient Greeks found no counterpart in modern times, and the next Olympiad, planned for Berlin, was cancelled.
The IOC was headquartered in the Casino de Montbenon in Lausanne, Switzerland, between 1915 and 1921. By 1921, the IOC’s archives and museum had outgrown the Casino de Montenon. The Villa Mon-Repos became its home for the period from 1922 to 1968, and that of Courbertin as well. After Courbertin died in 1937, he was buried in Lausanne, except for his heart, which was buried at the Archaia Olympia, Greece.
In the early 1920s, the IOC began hiring non-members for part-time positions in its secretariat, which handled the organization’s daily business. Until this time, the individual members of the board itself carried out such administrative functions as secretary and treasurer.
Comte Henri de Baillet-Latour, a Belgian aristocrat, replaced Courbertin as president in 1925. He had been part of the IOC since 1903. He had helped organize the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, which had been symbolically chosen due to the invasions Belgium had endured during World World I. Among the issues debated during Baillet-Latour’s presidency was whether the women’s track and field events introduced at the 1928 Games be allowed to continue. Baillet-Latour unsuccessfully tried to have them eliminated from 1932 Los Angeles on the grounds that athletic competition produced unfeminine women.
Berlin had been awarded the privilege of hosting the 1936 Olympics in 1930, when a congress had been held in that city. After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Olympics presented an unprecedented propaganda opportunity. Despite promises to the contrary, the Nazis banned Jewish athletes from German sports facilities—ostensibly violations of the Olympic code, though officially denied by Hitler. A considerable movement to boycott the Berlin Games arose in North America and Great Britain.
The 1936 Games proceeded even though the Nazis had occupied the Rhineland the previous year. Hitler reportedly left the stadium early to avoid shaking hands with the African Americans who had wrestled gold medals from his Aryan athletes. At a dinner party during the Games, Baillet-Latour corrected one of his German hostesses of any illusions regarding peace and harmony: “We shall have war in three years,” he predicted (as quoted in the New York Times fifty years later). World War II cancelled the 1940 Winter Games planned for first Sapporo, Japan, and then Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, as well as the Summer Games planned for Tokyo, then Helskini.
Baillet-Latour died in January 1942, shortly after learning his son had died during military exercises in the United States. He was succeeded by Swedish industrialist Sigfrid Edström, who had been the IOC’s first vice-president. Edström was a logical successor due to his neutral citizenship.
Edström had played a critical role in the establishment of a separate Winter Olympic Games. In 1924, the IOC helped support the Week of Winter Sports in Chamonix, France, before voting the next year at the Prague Congress to create the Winter Games proper. At the time, Scandinavians opposed this, fearing competition with their own skiing events.
Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will, and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example, and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. The goal of Olympism is to place everywhere sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to encouraging the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity. To this effect, the Olympic Movement engages, alone or in cooperation with other organizations and within the limits of its means, in actions to promote peace. The Olympic Movement, led by the IOC, stems from modern Olympism.
Like other early IOC leaders, Edström opposed compensating athletes with money and resisted efforts to include women. Nevertheless, after Alice Milliat’s Fédération sportive feminine internationale produced a popular “Women’s Olympics,” Edström voted to allow women to compete in five events beginning with the 1928 Amsterdam Games.
Cold War Competitions
At the IOC congress in Vienna in May 1951, Edström defeated motions to prevent delegates from the former Axis powers from remaining in the organization. He referred to some of them as “old friends.” The Soviets, who had withdrawn from the games under Lenin, were cleared to participate in the 1952 Helsinki Games. Chinese nationalists on the island of Formosa (Taiwan) boycotted these games; a Chinese team assembled by the mainland Communists arrived too late to compete. East and West Germany, divided by the Cold War, would field a common team from 1956 to 1964 and separate teams between 1968 and 1988.
Edström nominated Avery Brundage as his successor; after 25 rounds of balloting, he was confirmed in 1952. Brundage came from a different background than previous IOC presidents. His origins were working class; his mother ran a boarding house after his father deserted the family. Brundage went on to run a successful construction business in Chicago (Edström had married to a schoolteacher from the Windy City); after becoming a champion handball player, Brundage became an advocate for the United State’s participation in the 1936 Games in Berlin. Brundage had helped Edström stay in touch with widely scattered IOC members during World War II.
At the time Brundage took the helm in 1952, the IOC was losing $3,000 a year. The sale of television rights to CBS helped right the balance sheet. CBS paid $50,000 to broadcast the Squaw Valley Winter Games and $394,000 for the Rome Summer Games. These funds helped pay for expenses of the president, who previously had to cover many costs out of his own pocket.
Among the issues the IOC faced during Brundage’s tenure was the question of South African apartheid. In 1964 and 1968, Tokyo and Mexico City withdrew their invitations to South Africa, fearing a wholesale boycott from other African nations. After years of debate, the IOC voted to exclude South Africa from the Olympics in 1970.
Meanwhile, the Château de Vidy in Lausanne had become the home of the IOC at the end of 1967. The IOC’s secretariat would expand greatly under Monique Berlioux, appointed director of press and public relations in 1969. She also served as de facto secretary-general, a position that was formally given her in 1973. The secretariat tripled in size under Berlioux, reaching 83 employees in 1986.
Sociopolitical violence was beginning to make its way into the Games. In Mexico 1968, students protested the country’s disparity of wealth and the amount of money spent on the Olympics there; 267 were killed in an ensuing battle with police. The same Games were boycotted by some African-American athletes.
During the 1972 Munich Games, Palestinian terrorists killed ten Israeli athletes and two bodyguards. Brundage was criticized for not sharing information during the crisis with other IOC members. Brundage’s successor, elected before the killings, was Michael Morris, Lord Killanin. A native of Dublin, Killanin had been a journalist, a veteran of D-Day, and a peer in the House of Lords. Although active in athletics at school, it was not sports that drew him into the Olympic family but a desire to help resolve disputes.
Disputes certainly abounded during the eight years Killanin was in charge of the IOC. African nations boycotted the money-losing 1976 Montreal Olympics. The U.S.-led a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Also, rules regarding amateurism were relaxed under Killanin. The word “amateur” was removed from the Olympic Charter in 1974.
IOC More Corporate in the 1980s
Juan Antonio Samaranch was named president, a full-time position, in 1980. Fond of roller hockey and boxing, he had risen through the ranks as a sporting official in Franco’s Spain. After the end of the fascist regime, Samaranch served as Spanish ambassador to the Soviet Union. Under Samaranch, power became more centralized within the IOC. Though some questioned his methods, the movement’s fortunes and influence grew greatly during his twenty years at the helm.
In September 1981, the Swiss Confederation recognized the IOC as an international nongovernmental, nonprofit organization, giving it tax relief and allowing it exclusive rights to Olympic trademarks. Under Samaranch, the IOC began selling corporations like Kodak, Visa, and Coca-Cola the rights to display this trademark on their products, which would generate about $300 million in income every four years by 2000.
- Baron Pierre de Courbertin organizes a committee to promote a revival of the ancient Greek Olympics.
- Athens hosts the first modern Olympic Games.
- The first official Olympic memorabilia is licensed at the Stockholm Games.
- The IOC relocates to the Villa Mon-Repos.
- Women’s sports included in the Amsterdam Games.
- CBS buys TV rights for Squaw Valley and Rome Olympics for about $450,000.
- Château de Vidy becomes IOC’s new home.
- Monique Berlioux, later secretary-general, begins expansion of IOC secretariat.
- The word “amateur“ is removed from the Olympic Charter.
- IOC recognized as a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization.
- Bribery scandal forces resignations of IOC, Salt Lake officials.
- Salt Lake promises the technically most advanced Olympics celebration ever.
Though boycotted by the Soviet bloc, the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 were financially successful; they earned a tidy $225 million profit, observed Time magazine. This, in addition to the enormous publicity associated with the Games, intensified the competition among cities eager to host them. As logical as it may seem in retrospect, the IOC did not begin holding Winter and Summer Games on alternate even-numbered years until the 1990s. This greatly increased the value of the TV rights to the Winter Games.
1996 Centennial Games
A special congress was held in Paris in 1994 to mark the organization’s 100th anniversary. However, history was not to repeat itself in 1996—the Centennial Games would be held in bustling Atlanta, Georgia, rather than polluted Athens. Eventually, Greece did win the opportunity to host the 2004 Games, while Beijing was picked as the 2008 host city.
Some lamented the growing commercialism of the Olympics. Fast food colossus McDonald’s was estimated to have spent $100 million at the 2000 Sydney Games. However, the IOC banned commercial advertising and billboards in Olympic stadiums and venues. It also turned down potentially lucrative satellite and cable revenues to maintain a policy of free-to-air access for Olympic broadcasts.
Allegations of widespread drug use were particularly persistent; occasionally they resulted in medals being stripped from doped athletes after the fact. Still, the Sydney Games were noted for their magnificent spectacle. Samaranch, giving his last closing address as IOC president, declared they were the “best Olympic Games ever.” Global television networks reported 3.7 billion viewers during the Sydney Games. The official Olympic Web site logged 8.7 million visitors, while that of NBC counted 15.4 million.
Salt Lake 2002
Salt Lake City, Utah, narrowly lost its bid to host the 1998 Winter Olympics, which instead went to Nagano, Japan. The next time around, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) courted IOC members lavishly, giving them everything from $100 bottles of wine to free travel and medical care, as well as supplying jobs and scholarships for their relatives. Congolese IOC member, Jean Claude Ganga, was particularly well rewarded, earning $60,000 in a Utah land deal. All told, SLOC gave IOC members a total of $1 million in gifts. A major scandal ensued. Ten officials from the IOC and several from the SLOC subsequently resigned (SLOC chairman Tom Welch stepped down in 1997 after being convicted on a domestic battery charge); two SLOC leaders faced criminal charges of fraud. In spite of the scandal, the 2002 Winter Games seemed on track to be the most successful yet. By early 2001, ticket sales, at $160 million, were double those of the previous Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
Jacques Rogge was named IOC president in July 2001. A champion sailor and orthopedic surgeon, Rogge had lobbied to send a Belgian team to the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which was boycotted by the United States and the rest of its NATO allies over the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
Security plans for the 2002 Salt Lake Games were reviewed after the September 11 terrorist attack on New York and Washington, D.C. The last Games to be held in the United States, the 1996 Atlanta Games, had been marred by a bombing held to be the work of an anti-abortion activist. Organizers and athletes remained determined to rally around the Olympic torch, one of the world’s greatest symbols of hope and aspiration. An IOC media campaign urged sports fans everywhere to “Celebrate Humanity.”
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Olympic Solidarity Commission; Olympic Foundation; Olympic Museum Foundation.
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International Sports Federations; National Olympic Committees; Organizing Committees of Olympic Games; Olympic Solidarity; IOC Commissions and Olympic Movement Efforts.
Abrahamson, Alan, “US Role Is Waning in Politics of the IOC,” Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2001, p. D1.
Bai, Matt, and Andrew Murr, “Go for the Greed,” Newsweek, January 25, 1999, pp. 30-33.
Findling, John E., and Kimberly D. Pelle, eds., Historical Dictionary of the Modern Olympic Movement, Westport, Conn. and London: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Longman, Jere, “Experienced Helmsman—Jacques Rogge,” New York Times, July 17, 2001, p. D4.
Paparsenos, Achilles, “Security at Athens 2004,” Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2001, p. D1.
Payne, Michael, “100 Years of Olympic Marketing,” The IOC Official Olympic Companion 1996, Searle, Caroline and Bryn Vaile, eds., Atlanta, Ga.: Brassey’s Sports, 1996, pp. 469-74.
Rodda, John, “Olympics: Final Curtain for Man Who Made Today’s Games,” Guardian (Manchester, U.K.), Sport Sec., July 16, 2001, p. 16.
Shipley, Amy, “Among Olympic Hopefuls, Athens Has the History,” Washington Post, August 19, 1997, p. E1.
Verdier, Michèle, “The IOC: A Vast and Complex Global Organization,” The IOC Official Olympic Companion 1996, Searle, Caroline and Bryn Vaile, eds., Atlanta, Ga.: Brassey’s Sports, 1996, pp. 464-68.
Williams, Richard, “Sydney 2000: The Final Workouts: Let the ’Mc-Games’ Begin,” Guardian (Manchester, U.K.), Sport Sec., September 9, 2000, p. 1.
Young, David C., “Demetrios Vikelas: First President of the IOC,” Stadion, 1988, pp. 85-102.
—Frederick C. Ingram