Today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is marking the 30th anniversary of its influential Baden-Baden Olympic Congress, a gathering in Germany in 1981 that helped change the course of Olympic history with a number of groundbreaking decisions, including the creation of the IOC Athletes’ Commission.
The Baden-Baden Congress came at a critical juncture in Olympic history, sandwiched as it was between the two boycotted Games of Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984 and with the credibility of the Olympic Movement in jeopardy. The Olympic Movement’s financial situation was weak and athletes had no real voice in sports governance or administrative matters. It was clear that serious changes needed to be made in order to right the ship.
“In many ways, those five days in Baden-Baden ushered in the Olympic Movement’s modern era,” President Rogge said at today’s ceremony. “The 1981 Congress marked the start of a revolution — the Samaranch Revolution. Juan Antonio Samaranch had been elected IOC President at the Moscow Games, so Baden-Baden was his first real opportunity to exert his leadership.”
Of all the decisions that would alter the future direction of the Olympic Movement, none was more important than the establishment of the IOC Athletes’ Commission. IOC Vice-President Thomas Bach and Chairman of the London 2012 Organising Committee Seb Coe, then both young Olympians, led a group of more than two dozen athletes in championing the idea in Baden-Baden.
The Athletes’ Commission was established one month after the Congress, and put athletes where they rightfully belong: at the heart of the Olympic Movement. A member of the Athletes’ Commission now sits on every other IOC commission and working group, meaning the opinions of the athletes are taken into account in all decisions made, including the bidding process, the organisation and the programme for each Olympic Games.
Forging a brighter future
The Congress also brought an end to amateurism at the Games, which forced athletes to choose between turning pro or following their Olympic dreams. Delegates also identified doping as the leading threat to the integrity of sport and vowed to take a tougher stance, reaffirmed the Olympic Movement’s commitment to equality (which led to the first woman being elected as a member of the IOC), and ended the practice of holding the Summer and Winter Olympic Games in the same year (which increased revenues and gave greater prominence to the Winter Games).