A growing voice: the history of the IOC Athletes’ Commission
For nearly four decades, the IOC Athletes’ Commission (IOC AC) has striven to ensure that the voice of all athletes is at the heart of Olympic decision-making. Here we look at the AC’s development from an initiative with a vision to an increasingly influential and relevant platform for change, support and empowerment.
Deep in the International Olympic Committee archives, there is a letter dated October 1981, describing the formation of the very first IOC Athletes’ Commission. Written by then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, to his eventual successor, Thomas Bach, it reads: “I have decided to create an IOC Commission for athletes. This Commission will act as the spokesman of all athletes to the International Olympic Committee.”
The first AC meetings
The first meeting of the Commission took place in May 1982 in Rome. Back then its members were Thomas Bach (GER), Sebastian Coe (GBR), Edwin Moses (USA), Ivar Formo (NOR), Kipchoge Keino (KEN), Vladislav Tretiak (RUS), Svetla Otsetova (BUL) and Bojan Križaj (SLO), and many of the topics on the agenda are still relevant today. The Commission discussed the fight against doping, gender equality, and for the Olympic Games to be free of political influence and pressure.
At the Olympic Games Seoul 1988, the Athletes’ Commission took on its highest-profile role since its inception. It held a meeting with 100 athletes from 38 different countries, and manned an office in the Olympic Village on a daily basis. The Commission was so successful in mediating between athletes and Olympic officials that President Samaranch invited a member to be part of the daily coordination meeting during the Games.
For the first 13 years, the Commission was entirely appointed by the IOC President, but from the Olympic Winter Games Lillehammer 1994 onwards, the majority of members have been elected by their fellow athletes, and as time has gone by, athlete representatives have taken on a progressively bigger role within the IOC itself. In 2000, eight Athletes’ Commission members became IOC Members, and the first athlete representative joined the IOC Executive Board.
The first International Athletes’ Forum
In 2002, the very first IOC AC International Athletes’ Forum was held in Lausanne, a landmark convention which addressed key issues such as anti-doping and self-marketing for athletes. The latter discussion heralded a series of prominent Athletes’ Commission initiatives to help athletes negotiate the often tricky process of transitioning into a new profession once their competitive days are over, with the IOC declaring its responsibility to support athletes at every step of their careers.
Three years on, the IOC Athlete Career Programme was created (which is now Athlete365 Career+), complemented by the Athlete Learning Gateway (now Athlete365 Learning), an online learning platform to help athletes and their entourages across a broad spectrum of topics.
The IOC AC Strategy
In 2014, the views of the athletes were fully integrated into and played a key role in the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020, consisting of 40 recommendations for the future of the Olympic Movement. Building upon recommendation 18 of Olympic Agenda 2020 – which reiterates the need to support athletes, both on and off the field of play – the Commission announced the launch of the IOC Athletes’ Commission Strategy in September 2017, which states the mission of representing and engaging with athletes within the Olympic Movement, and supporting them to succeed in their sporting and non-sporting careers.
In recent years there have been more key innovations, driven by the IOC Athletes’ Commission. As a direct recommendation of the 2015 International Athletes’ Forum, continental athletes’ forums are now funded as part of the Olympic Solidarity programmes.
Following discussions at the 2017 International Athletes’ Forum, the IOC Athletes’ Commission devised the Olympic Medal Reallocation Principles, providing athletes who had been denied medals due to cheating with a menu of options for receiving their medals in a way that recognises their achievements. These principles were subsequently approved by the IOC Executive Board.
Following recommendations made at the 2017 Forum, the IOC launched a toolkit for federations and NOCs within the Olympic Movement to safeguard athletes from harassment and abuse in sport.
In addition, a new engagement initiative for athletes by the IOC - Athlete365 - was launched. This single brand unites the many strands of guidance available to athletes, including a centralised digital platform, as well as physical outreach during Games time and through International Federations and National Olympic Committees.
Over the past year, there have been further achievements. The historic Athletes’ Rights and Responsibility Declaration – developed and delivered as part of the IOC Athletes’ Commission Strategy – which outlines an aspirational athlete-driven set of rights and responsibilities within the Olympic Movement, was officially adopted by the IOC Session in October 2018.
The IOC Medical and Scientific Commission has been working with the Athletes’ Commission on a new mental health initiative.
From 13 to 15 April 2019, the ninth International Athletes’ Forum will take place, with more scope and athletes’ representatives present than ever before.
As a result, nearly four decades after its inception, the IOC Athletes’ Commission continues to remain as relevant and vital as ever.