Athletes take centre stage at ceremony with 300 guests

Baden-Baden, Germany, 28 September 2011: The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) was today joined by high-ranking members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the XI Olympic Congress, when the IOC Athletes’ Commission was first proposed in Baden-Baden in 1981.


This Congress was to be a landmark in sports policy, at a time when “nothing less than the future of the Olympic Games and the Olympic idea was at stake”, said DOSB President and IOC Vice President, Thomas Bach, in his speech today. As well as the IOC President, Jacques Rogge, the 300 prestigious guests comprised many of Dr. Bach’s most influential colleagues, including: Hungarian President, Pal Schmitt; His Serene Highness the Sovereign Prince Albert II of Monaco; and Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London 2012 Organising Committee. The honoured guests were invited by Lord Mayor Wolfgang Gester to sign the Golden Book of Baden-Baden.


In September 1981, the 469 delegates present in Baden-Baden moved to abolish the amateur programme; they paved the way for tougher sanctions against doping; they developed a new marketing strategy, strengthened Olympic solidarity and proposed founding an athletes’ commission. One month later, this IOC Athletes’ Commission was established, and among its founding members were Sebastian Coe and Thomas Bach.


President Rogge’s speech focused particularly on the historic impact of the Congress on the development of the Olympic Movement. The IOC President admitted that he had been invited to be part of the Athletes’ Commission at its inception, but had already agreed to attend the sailing world championships – a mistake, he noted: his mast broke.


President Rogge went on to discuss the most important Congresses of the 13 to date, like the III Congress in Brussels in 1905, during which sharing the rewards of sport more widely, and with women especially, was proposed. He also cited the XII Congress in Paris in 1994 – the Centenary – that led to the adoption of a new clause in the Olympic Charter, making environmental protection a core pillar of the IOC’s mission.


But the XI Congress in Baden-Baden addressed perhaps the most pressing difficulties of all. Just one year before, 60 National Olympic Committees were forced to join a politically inspired boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. Three years later, the Games in Los Angeles suffered another boycott. The Movement’s financial foundation was weak, said President Rogge, and many cities were reluctant to take on the expense of hosting the Games. Indeed, Los Angeles was the only serious bidder for the 1984 Olympic Games. The gap between the NOCs of industrialised nations and developing countries was all too apparent and the spread of doping was threatening the integrity of many sports. And in the face of all these issues, the athletes at the heart of the Movement had no voice in governance or administration.


In many ways, those five days in Baden-Baden ushered in the Olympic Movement’s modern era. President Rogge said today it “marked the start of a revolution – the Samaranch Revolution. The delegates of the Baden-Baden Congress looked to the future. The most recent Olympic Congress, in 2009 in Copenhagen, was an extension and a renovation of the work done in 1981.” There, the IOC succeeded in “adapting to changing times while remaining true to our core values and founding mission.”


Rogge also mentioned the former host, the late Willi Daume, and honoured his important role in reuniting the Olympic Movement: “He challenged delegates to live up to Olympic ideals and embrace change.”


“The 1981 Olympic Congress bore all the signs of Daume’s hand”, Dr. Bach said. “Even the choice of venue symbolised his feeling for time and space, for the interplay of external stimuli and internal sensitivities, for his meticulous attention to detail and his eye for the utopia of the feasible.” And Dr. Bach went on to emphasise that it was exactly these qualities that matched the needs of the moment.


However, it was the athletes themselves, at the centre of the Baden-Baden Congress, who paved the way to a greater and sustained role for athletes. The five-time Olympian Peter Tallberg was asked by Juan Antonio Samaranch Snr. to administrate the first discussions among athletes and to lead the first IOC Athletes’ Commission. Today he spoke on the background of the first meetings and how the athletes demanded more opportunity to present themselves to the audience at the Congress:


“His [Samaranch Snr.’s] decision to invite 38 active medal-winning athletes, of whom eight were women, to Baden-Baden was significant, and it was right – and this was repeatedly stated in the course of the congress. Headlines in the newspapers applauded the President´s visionary decision to include the athletes. It was considered to be a signal and an obligation of the IOC, the NOCs and IFs to finally include athletes in the Olympic family as full members. The athletes who had been invited to Baden-Baden understood the importance of their role and immediately realized that this was THE moment for them to show what an important, new and vital partner of the congress they represented”, Tallberg said.


At today’s celebration ceremony, Dr. Bach, Lord Coe, President Schmitt and Prince Albert II of Monaco were joined by Frank Fredericks, Chairman of the current Athletes’ Commission, Nadia Comaneci, Romania’s five-time Olympic gymnastics champion, and Kip Keino, Kenya’s two-time Olympic Champion, to discuss their experiences in the Athletes’ Commission. The panel was led by Olympian Franziska Schenk, a bronze medal-winning speed skater.


“For the first time the grand arena of sports policy was opened to the athletes”, Dr. Bach said today. “We were allowed not only to be there but also to represent our interests explicitly. For us this was a challenge and an opportunity that I believe we were able to use.”


Dr. Bach said his friend, Sebastian Coe, got “to the heart of the matter by stating: I believe that by taking part in the Congress, and the tenacity we have shown in the way we approached our tasks, will clear up once and for all the widespread misconception that athletes are just robots incapable of thinking.”


Picture 1:

Family Picture: Up on stage, founding members of the IOC Athletes’ Commission: Kip Keino, Svetla Ozetova, Thomas Bach, Sebastian Coe and Peter Tallberg.


Picture 2:

Panel discussion with Frank Fredericks, Prince Albert II of Monaco, Nadia Comaneci, Pal Schmitt, Thomas Bach, Sebastian Coe and Kip Keino (behind the chair, Franziska Schenk).


Picture 3:

Former and current members of the IOC Athletes’ Commission.


Picture 4:

Sharing gifts: The IOC President hands a reprinted plate of the Olympic Congress to Thomas Bach, who in turn awards a reprint of the participants’ medal from 1981 to Jacques Rogge.


Picture 5:

The orchestra and choir strike up the Hymn of the Olympic Congress, composed by Leonard Bernstein.


Picture 6:

Speaking to the guests, Peter Tallberg, the first chairman of the IOC Athletes’ Commission.


Please use this pictures not for promotion purpose. Copyright: Picture Alliance/Jan Haas.