The Future of the Olympic Movement: Promised Land or Train Wreck?

Article excerpt

May I begin by thanking you for this kind invitation to attend your deliberations and by congratulating you on your interest in research relating to the Olympic Movement. As a member of the International Olympic Committee for more than thirty years, as a former secretary and president of a national Olympic committee and as a somewhat ancient former Olympic athlete, I am delighted to see, encourage and, to some degree participate in, such research and I hope that interest in this field will spread even more as the fascinating historical nuggets to be found become more apparent.

I admit to shameless opportunism in the choice of the title for my remarks today, encouraged by our friend Robert Barney, who has a penchant (bordering on addiction) for provocative titles. On the other hand, as I will try to demonstrate, there are many important issues that must be addressed by the Olympic Movement in the years ahead and, if they are not properly handled, I do believe that its future will be much less certain than most seem to think. I also believe that the issues must be handled proactively and that it will not be sufficient merely to react to events, situations and challenges as they appear. There is some overlap between certain of the issues I will discuss, since many of the factors involved are inter-connected. I will do my best to avoid as much duplication as possible.

Getting the Mission Right

Until now, the Olympic Movement has been remarkably resilient. The journey from sport as an activity for gentlemen of independent means to an activity that is all but universal has been accomplished with a minimum of difficulty when one considers the many hurdles that had to be overcome. The Movement's showpiece Olympic Games have assumed an importance on a world scale that would have been unimaginable to their founders. The paroxysms of world war, political upheaval, boycotts and social revolution have been weathered with comparative ease. The guiding organization, the IOC, has relied on three major personalities over the first century of its existence to help it muddle through the many challenges, some being handled more perceptively than others. De Coubertin, Brundage and Samaranch have each made essential contributions to the DNA of the Olympic Movement. One was the founder, one was the glue who held the Movement together in the critical post-World War II period and the third was the person who made the transition from the proverbial kitchen table to the board rooms of the world. None had a perfect record, but without any one of them in his place and time, there would be no Olympic Movement on its present scale.

The novelty, however, of building something new and exciting has now worn off. There are no new continents to become involved. There are no major countries to be recruited. Gender equity has all but been achieved. Television has brought billions of viewers to the Movement. Sport has become a business for many and a commodity for millions. Corruption has infiltrated into many aspects of sport. There is increasing separation between the philosophy and the delivery of sport. More choices exist for more people regarding their leisure time. Many of the traditional sports do not appeal to the younger generations, who neither watch nor participate. Many sports leaders, slaves to the Primary Directive, that of getting re-elected, seem blissfully unaware of the gathering storm clouds and of the need for change or are actively unwilling to take steps that might be perceived as controversial.

I was struck by a recent comment coming from the IOC itself, which said that the main responsibility of the IOC was to organize successful Olympic Games. I think this is a perfect example of the IOC not understanding the role of the IOC. In the first place, the IOC does not organize Olympic Games. That is done by the Organizing Committees, with some occasional help and supervision by the IOC, which, to be fair, has learned some things by watching other Organizing Committees over the years. …