The Olympic movement is and always will be something of a contradiction in terms. It is not, purely speaking, a business. It is a club based in Switzerland that counts about 110 members; through secret votes, those members allocate a franchise that decamps to different cities around the world for a 17-day stay every other year.
That description both accounts for and thoroughly ignores reality. The Olympic movement encompasses fantastic business attributes. Worldwide, it is a sponsor- and broadcast-driven commercial proposition now worth well over $1 billion annually. Moreover, a Games serves as the catalyst for infrastructure, development and, as is typical in the case of a Summer Olympics, urban renewal projects worth billions of dollars more.
Underpinning all of it is a philosophy that separates the movement from every other major sports concern. All other big-time sports exist for two reasons — to crown champions and to make money. The Olympic movement is a non-profit enterprise animated by high-minded ideals.
How, then, would you set out to describe for a highly knowledgeable audience exactly where the Olympic movement is now, and where it’s going?
That was the challenge facing the Olympic Games’ executive director, Gilbert Felli, when he was asked to present a report to the just-concluded 123rd International Olympic Committee session in Durban, South Africa — that is, to the members themselves.
Felli’s 11-page report, now circulating more widely, makes for one of the most remarkably articulated mission statements ever drafted by or about the IOC. Each of the 11 pages is charged with a keen understanding of what the IOC is, what it’s doing, why it’s doing it and where it’s heading.
Throughout, there are gems — not only stuff that’s straightforward but said straight-out, in the way such things need to be said, frankly. On page four, for instance, Felli notes, “To be appealing, the Games must be the prime event in young people’s heads. Regular investments must be made in the way the event is staged, broadcast and shared through the various media platforms. The program must also evolve with time. A good example is the way new events have been recently added to the Sochi 2014 program,” and that is a perfect example, the IOC adding slopestyle, among other events.
Historians studying the IOC in these early years of the 21st century may well turn to this document as a — if not the — basic marker. It’s that good.
Because it’s so good, I’m going to quote at length from what is entitled the “introduction” to the report. A big-picture overview, the “introduction” deservedly carries on for more than a full page in the document itself. Here goes:
“The Olympic Games are in constant evolution. Just like any child, they grow through several stages in life. As they become more mature, they adapt to an ever-evolving context, and present new, sometimes unexpected, challenges and opportunities. What is sure, though, is that the Olympic Games are continuing to be extremely healthy and successful. Their magic is now shared with more people than ever, while their staging has come out of difficult economic times with little impact.
“The IOC, together with its key partners and stakeholders, should take great pride in having consistently delivered a series of very successful Olympic Games, sometimes in very challenging circumstances. The IOC can also congratulate itself by offering the youth of the world a new, inspiring event: the Youth Olympic Games.
“The successful staging of two major events in 2010 [meaning the Vancouver Winter Games and the Singapore Youth Games] is no stroke of good fortune. It is the direct result of all the energy expended to develop new tools and processes, to establish strong but evolving partnerships with the organizers and to deliver a rich transfer of knowledge program.
“… [T]he reality of the Games has changed significantly. The Games inspire millions of athletes and even more fans across continents, cultures, ages or ethnic groups. They continue to break down barriers and bring people together. Today, the Games have really extended out of the competition venues and TV screens to play a much wider and more significant role than ever before. They now integrate new technologies to be shared with more people. They compete with more events and leisure activities. They involve more stakeholders and public partners who are all key players in the preparation and staging of the events. Much interest is at stake around the Games.
“The Games are also perceived differently by a number of our stakeholders. Public partners now perceive more fully the potential of the Games to change the face of a city, to inspire an entire nation, to upgrade the host city’s public services or generate lasting legacies for host communities. With recent and current organizers, we see that the [magic] of the Games extends far beyond the field of play.
“We have also come to realize how thin the margin can be between success and failure. What sometimes looks very promising can easily turn into a sour situation to manage either for economic, political or other reasons often out of our reach and control. Hence the need to further develop our risk management approach, tailored to each and every Games context.
“The Games bring new challenges but also a wealth of opportunities. They force us not only to observe carefully the world around us and the various trends in leisure and physical activities, media consumption, public health or applied sustainability, but also to constantly innovate and challenge ourselves to optimize the product and experience. Such are the conditions for the Games to remain relevant and successful in the years to come.”