The 125th IOC Session, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September 2013, is an example of just how dense the agenda of these meetings is. In the space of four days, the gathered IOC members elected Tokyo as host for the Olympic Games 2020, made changes to the Olympic Games sport programme and chose Thomas Bach as successor of Jacques Rogge as President of the IOC.
What, who and when
In effect, an IOC Session is an annual general meeting, bringing together all of the IOC members in order to discuss the most pressing issues of the moment. Every member is obliged to attend, with more than 50% needed for a Session to be valid.
Sessions usually take place once a year, but the President of the IOC can call an Extraordinary Session if something urgently needs acting upon. In Games’ years, Sessions are being held in the Host City shortly before the Opening Ceremony; in non-Games years the IOC Members meet in a previously decided location.
In the recent Session in Lausanne, 11-12 July, the members reacted to the innovative decision of the IOC Executive Board and approved the potential joint-election of host cities for the Olympic Games 2024 and 2028 at the coming Session in Lima.
The Executive Board sets the agenda for each Session and President Bach acts as the chairman. While the agenda is always set in advance (at least 30 days ahead of a normal Session and 10 days before an Extraordinary Session), matters can be added if one-third of the members request it or the Chairman authorises it. The audience can follow the Sessions as they are broadcast live on the internet.
The duties of the Session are mainly voting on important issues, overseeing the governance of the IOC, exercising mandates and maintaining the integrity of the IOC.
Voting is arguably an IOC Session’s most high profile activity. Members must elect host cities for Olympic Games, and locations for future Sessions (although the President decides where an Extraordinary Session will take place). When required, they must also vote in new Presidents and Vice-presidents, new members, and other members of the IOC Executive Board, plus honorary positions.
The majority of decisions are made by simple majority, with voting taking place generally via secret ballots. However, a two-thirds majority is needed if a Session is voting on modifying any Rules of the Olympic Charter or changes to fundamental principles of Olympism.
The Sessions have a vital and significant impact on every level of the Games. For example, at the 129th Session, held in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the opening of the Olympic Games 2016, members gave final approval for surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing, karate and baseball/softball – five dynamic, youth-orientated sports – to join the programme of the Olympic Games 2020.
If any vote results in a tie, the President has the casting decision. He can also, in an emergency, request members to vote via email.
In terms of governance, members must approve the annual accounts and reports at a Session and appoint the auditors. They also play a crucial role in awarding or withdrawing IOC recognition for National Olympic Committees (NOCs), International Federations (IFs) and other organisations, and they are required to vote on expelling members or withdrawing honorary status when required.
In order to ensure full transparency, members will excuse themselves from all votes held in relation to the country of which they are national representatives. For example, a French IOC member will not vote on a proposal to award the Olympic Games 2024 to Paris, and Australian and Chinese members would both abstain from casting a vote in a hypothetical head-to-head battle between Sydney and Beijing to host a future IOC Session.
In essence, an IOC Session offers the chance to make and communicate crucial, far-reaching decisions that directly improve and enhance the Olympic movement. Keep an eye on events in Lima this week, it should be interesting.