The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the supreme organizational authority with respect to the Olympic Games. It is one of a number of bodies that are often referred to as the Olympic Movement, which includes the organizing committee for each individual Summer or Winter Olympics, the national Olympic committee in each member country, all national sports federations, and the member athletes.
In 1892, Pierre de Coubertin (1863–1937) of France declared his intention to spearhead a movement to revive the ancient Greek Olympics. It was in furtherance of de Coubertin's dream that the IOC was created in 1894. De Coubertin was the first president of the IOC, holding the position from 1896 to 1925. In 1896, the first modern Summer Olympics were held in Athens; the inaugural Winter Olympics were staged in Chamonix, France, in 1924. The IOC has steadily expanded both the scope of the Olympics and its own corresponding influence since that time. De Coubertin envisaged an Olympic Games event that would function as the centerpiece of a worldwide athletics movement. At the heart of the authority of the IOC is the Olympic Charter, first published by de Coubertin in 1894. The Olympic Charter is the bedrock document of the Olympics, and every country that seeks to participate as a member of the Olympic Movement must acknowledge both the supremacy of the Charter as well as the authority of the IOC to enforce its provisions.
The original Olympic Charter reflected de Coubertin's idealistic view of the role to be played by athletics in the world at large; those sentiments are unaltered in the current Charter language. It is the ability of the IOC and its Olympic partners to amend its regulations to adopt the Charter to the realities of the modern athletic world that confirm the resilience and the status of the IOC.
The first significant amendment of IOC practice was with regard to the participation of female athletes in the Olympics. De Coubertin, notwithstanding his idealism regarding the power for good that sport represented in the world, was opposed to female participation in the Games. Subsequent IOC decisions reflected the fact that the exclusion of female athletes was a clear contradiction of the spirit of the Olympics as embodied in the Olympic Charter. It was in 1928 that women first participated in a broad range of track and field events and the number of female Olympic events has increased steadily since the 1970s, The Olympic Charter now provides that, for a sport to be included in the Olympics, it must provide for female competition.
The IOC has found itself at the center of numerous political controversies throughout modern Olympic history. The fact that the Olympics have been used as a forum to advance political causes is not surprising, given the primacy of the Olympics in sport. The IOC is not well equipped to respond effectively to
The various efforts to prevent doping at the Olympics by the IOC have been intensified as science has developed more effective detection methods. The IOC essentially transferred its anti-doping enforcement wing to the newly created World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999. The IOC is a full partner in the ongoing efforts of WADA.
The most dramatic evolutionary change made by the IOC in the course of its history is that regarding the status of professional athletes in the Olympics. The modern Games were founded at a time when the true amateur occupied an elevated position in all sports. Professionals, with the exception of American baseball players, were perceived as second-class athletic citizens. A notable example of the stature of the amateur is found in the treatment of Jim Thorpe (1888–1953), the American Olympic decathlon champion at the 1912 Olympics. Subsequent to his victory, it was discovered that Thorpe had played semi-professional baseball in Pennsylvania for money. The IOC stripped him of his medal and his championship. At that time, athletic endorsements, so common today, were a clear violation of Olympic rules.
A most formidable foe of professional influences in the Olympics was IOC president Avery Brundage (1887–1975), the American who held the post from 1955 to 1972. Brundage believed that the overwhelming trend of international sport to allow professional athletes was to be resisted by the IOC. Numerous controversies over this classification of athletes arose during his tenure. Notable examples were the ever-increasing development and dominance of Eastern Bloc state-supported sports teams, contrasted with the prohibition against athletes such as professional soccer players, American professional basketball players, and Canadian professional ice hockey players.
The modern Olympic Games are not only open to all manner of athletes—amateur and professional—the IOC now oversees a revenue-generating Goliath. Both Summer and Winter Olympics provide revenues to the IOC from three distinct streams: international television and radio broadcast rights; licensing, particularly agreements where the licensee is permitted to use the five ring Olympic symbol; and sponsorships, through agreements with clothing manufacturers, high technology suppliers, and similar products. The IOC directs approximately 92% of its Olympic revenues into sport or promotion worldwide, with the balance used to fund its large international operations.