In the effort to spread and strengthen the Olympic Movement in Switzerland, Baron Pierre de Coubertin made his first trip to Lausanne in 1908 to evaluate the city as the site of a future Olympic Congress.
Greeted by his colleague, Godefroy de Blonay, who had become the first Swiss IOC member in 1889, the Baron found the facilities of the University of Lausanne perfect for his purposes—and found the atmosphere and vistas of the hilly city on the shores of Lake Geneva refreshingly beautiful and inspiring.
In May of 1913, the fifth Olympic Congress took place at the University’s Palais de Rumine under the high patronage of Switzerland’s Federal Council. Focused on The Psychology and Physiology of Sports, the Congress drew 100 participants from nine countries. Former US President Teddy Roosevelt contributed a paper to the proceedings. While the Congress made progress examining the emerging new sciences of sport, Coubertin gained something far more valuable for the future. He left Lausanne with an organising committee and strong government relations in place—in a country respected far and wide for its political neutrality.
When World War I started the following year, Coubertin decided to move the headquarters of the IOC from France—then engulfed in the conflict—to neutral Switzerland. His instincts and his allies told him Lausanne would provide an ideal epicentre for the future of the Olympic Movement. On 10 April 1915, Coubertin and Blonay met with the Mayor of Lausanne, Professor Paul Maillefer, and during an official ceremony in the offfices of the municipalitysigned the agreement that made the city the permanent headquarters of the Olympic Movement. Members of the organising committee for the 1913 Olympic Congress were charged with setting up the archives and an Olympic Museum.
During the signing ceremony, the Baron offered these remarks on the promise of Lausanne:
“In the proud and independent atmosphere of Lausanne, Olympism will find guarantees of the freedom it must enjoy in order to move forward… Gentlemen, please accept our heartfelt gratitude for the welcome that the noble and illustrious city of Lausanne has shown the International Olympic Committee. In its name, I declare that from this day forward, the International Olympic Committee has chosen to reside here within your walls, and to make its headquarters here.”
Across the last century, Lausanne became a magnetic centre for those aspiring to be part of the Olympic family, reflecting a prophetic statement the Baron made in 1910: “The restored Olympic Games have forced all sports to create unforeseen and fruitful contacts. This progress towards such valuable unification is one of the greatest aspects of the work of the Olympics.” Aside from the IOC, more than 50 international sports federations now call Lausanne home, many of which are headquartered in a single building—the Maison du Sport International. Anyone who visits the city today will understand the Baron’s move and the pride behind Lausanne’s decision to become the worldwide “Olympic Capital”.