This is usually a quiet time for the Olympic Movement and for the International Olympic Committee. But not in 2018.
The winter-sports season hasn’t started yet and most of the major world championships in the summer sports are over, although wrestling and weightlifting are still to come.
But the IOC has been in overdrive and for long-time observers, the change in emphasis has been quite remarkable. In just the past couple of weeks, the IOC – through its Executive Board and the Session – has done some things which hardly seemed possible – or relevant – just a few years ago:
∙ It is staging its third Youth Olympic Games, a kind of “mini-Games” compared to the real thing, for athletes from 14-18 years old from 206 countries. This was an initiative of Belgian Jacques Rogge during his 12 years as IOC President and could hardly have been imagined by IOC founder Pierre de Coubertin. That the 2018 YOG has equal numbers of young men and women competed would also be beyond de Coubertin’s imagination.
∙ The IOC directed that the next YOG be held in Africa, a continent which has never hosted an Olympic Games or Winter Games. The 2022 YOG will be held in Dakar (SEN), paid for in the main by the Senegalese government, while the IOC will provide help with athlete travel, technology and television broadcasting.
∙ It has changed – although not enough for its critics – the format and requirements of bidding for the Olympic Games and Winter Games. Current IOC chief Thomas Bach extols at length the Agenda 2020 (adopted in 2014) and “The New Norm” programs which have been developed and adopted on his watch as key reforms.
In comparison to the way the Games were bid for prior to these reforms, they do make a dramatic difference. Here’s an example from my own experience: when I wrote the Los Angeles bid to the United States Olympic Committee for the 2012 Games, the requirements handed to us from the IOC’s own documentation included minimum spectator capacities for each sport.
Some were ridiculous for a Games in the U.S. for sports which are not that popular. Judo, for example, required a minimum capacity of 8,000 (!); there was a minimum of 5,000 for Shooting (!), 10,000 for table tennis (!) and 6,000 for rhythmic gymnastics! Even in a facility-rich metropolis like Los Angeles, there weren’t enough big arenas to meet all of these demands.
The Agenda 2020 and The New Norms essentially eliminate these requirements. That’s good and a welcome development for potential host cities.
∙ Another key aspect of these reforms is the quiet elimination of a single, newly-constructed Olympic Village, a huge problem for many potential bids. Although common in Winter Games, it’s still refreshing to see the IOC Working Group evaluation report on Calgary’s bid noting the bid concept for four or five Olympic Villages without criticism. True, a main Village in Calgary would need to be built, but there is little debate in Calgary itself that additional housing is needed in the city. This would be one way to get it.
Back in 2016 – not so long ago – the 30-year Olympic Specialist for the Chicago Tribune, the highly-respected Phil Hersh wrote that “The IOC must stop the pervasive thinking that athletes’ villages need to meet four-star hotel standards. Modern university dormitories should be fine for a Summer Games.” Lo and behold, that concept was enthusiastically embraced by the IOC for Los Angeles for the 2028 Games.
∙ The IOC Session in Buenos Aires adopted the IOC’s “Athletes’ Declaration,” detailing athlete rights and responsibilities. The IOC has been strong on athlete responsibilities, but the idea of a statement of athlete rights has the former IOC president, Avery Brundage (USA) spinning in his grave (and good riddance).
∙ The IOC has given away some of its “supreme authority” in the Olympic Movement to two organizations it has set up and helps to pay for: the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
To support the Court as a forum to resolve disputes involving international, non-governmental organizations such as the international sports federations, the IOC paid $7.6 million in 2017. That’s a substantial portion of the CAS annual budget.
For WADA, the IOC has supplied 50% of the annual budget and paid $14.4 million in 2017. Moreover, the IOC has championed the development – now coming online – of the International Testing Agency, which can be hired by any international federation or other organization to handle testing completely independently.
∙ The IOC created a mandate for gender equity in the Games and is beginning to insist on the same with the IFs and NOCs as well, policy goals that are totally new for the Olympic Movement. Same for the insistence on sustainability as part of the Agenda 2020 program.
The critics give the IOC no credit for any of these and have a long list of grievances. But Bach is slowly but surely positioning the IOC as a values-based non-governmental organization which can point to successes beyond gold medals and the Games themselves. The IOC has a long way to go, but to the surprise of many – including me – it has begun to sail in the right direction.