The National Olympic Committee: Its Role and Position at the Dawn of the 21st Century

First of all, I wish to thank the President of the IOA, Mr. Isidoros Kouvelos, and the Director, Mr. Dionyssis Gangas, for their honoring invitation to speak as a lecturer at this Session. I share with both of them a sincere, enduring friendship and sports cooperation.

The subject was a challenge for me and should maybe be the topic of a one-day meeting, for I believe that the problems and challenges facing the Olympic Movement are many, just as there are many opposite views on where Olympism and its principles are heading today, in the 21st century.

Looking briefly back to the last century, we see that since the 70s, and especially during the 80s, the World Sports Movement has gone through a major crisis. The first problem is related to the escalation of violence inside and outside competition venues. Hooliganism has become the plague of football matches both inside and outside the stadiums, placing world sports authorities in a difficult position. The second problem is doping that was quite often encouraged by the governments of the former Eastern bloc. Alongside these two problems, we have witnessed terrorist attacks during the Olympic Games (Munich Olympic Village in 1972, Atlanta Olympic Park in 1996) and, during the Cold War, the boycotting of the Olympics by the USA and the former Soviet Union and their allies (Moscow 1976, Los Angeles 1980).

To answer the question, “What is the NOC’s role in the 21st century?“ one should take into account not only the conditions that prevail today worldwide, but also those that will follow. On the one hand, there are major scientific and technological breakthroughs that contribute to the propagation and development of sport, but on the other you have a financial crisis, an institutional crisis, a value crisis, and scandals that come to light even within the IOC in connection to briberies accepted by its members during the voting for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. The crisis continues to exist within the Olympic Movement, as the problems of the past century persist with an additional factor, commercialization, which has invaded all levels of sport and the Olympic Movement and makes the situation even worse.

As crises occur, their handling depends on the administration and leadership of each NOC, which determines the levels of its authenticity. Dealing with a crisis requires leadership skills. When times are difficult, we all feel the temptation to compromise or forget our principles. However, the Olympic principles that have been handed down are not negotiable and should not disappear as the result of excessive commercialization. NOCs and, above all, the IOC, have the duty to be something more than the managers of the Olympic Idea. They have the duty to be its trustees.

The NOC’s mission is set out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 31, art. 2.1), according to which their mission is to develop and protect the Olympic Movement in their respective countries. The following paragraphs of this article detail the areas on which they should focus their activities.

Their first obligation is to propagate the fundamental principles of Olympism and contribute to their diffusion through educational programs. The precise definition of Olympism cannot be found in the best known international dictionaries, nor is it contained in the Olympic Charter. Moreover, Coubertin himself refrained from giving a definition, and it seems that the term was coined and appeared from 1909 onward as a set of values. These values are not clearly defined, but they are the basic values of ancient Greek philosophers who believed that young people should exercise in order to have a healthy body and should also cultivate their ethical and spiritual values in order to attain perfection. This standpoint is based on five elements: (a) unity of mind and body, (b) development of abilities, (c) impartiality, (d) fair play; and (e) peace. It is, therefore, obvious that today the philosophy of Olympism pursues pedagogical and educational objectives and does not influence only those who participate in the Olympic Games, but also millions of people who watch them on their television sets.

### The NOC And Olympic Education

In this century, the era of innocence for sport has irrevocably ended, and this is why we should understand that Olympic education is the primary element of the Olympic Movement and its quintessence.

Having established that, I believe that the NOCs should intensify their efforts of promoting Olympic education, which should be developed in two directions. The first involves theoretical consideration of the philosophy, sociology, and psychology of Olympism, with the view to enhancing its values. The second refers to the educational process as such that will initiate young people to the values of the Olympic Movement. This can be achieved in the following ways:

a. Through the athletes who have competed or won at the Olympic Games. Great athletes fascinate people with their fame and glory, and they may become role models for youth. The popularity and prestige which athletes enjoy at national and international level should be built on as they represent Olympism’s best ambassadors.
b. Through sports organizations and, in particular, through their country’s national federations and associations that can promote the spirit of sport and the principles of _fair play_, as well as combat violence and drug use propensity.
c. Through the media propagating Olympic education, by highlighting the great moments of the Olympic Games and interviews with their stars that focus on the human interest angle of their personal stories.
d. Finally, NOCs can propagate Olympism and its principles, especially in countries that have organized Olympic Games, through the volunteers. The Olympic Movement has the largest participation of volunteers, more than any other organization, and with proper training by NOCs, they can become the best heralds of Olympism.

The hovering question in the sports-loving world today is the following: Does sport build ethical persons, or should we build ethical persons who will become involved in sport? The answer is that by spreading Olympic education, we can build ethical persons.

### The Autonomy Of NOCs And Political Interventions

It is very important to protect and ensure the autonomy of NOCs. Each NOC is an independent legal entity and should not fall prey to political exploitation or be dependent on political authority. Unquestionably, NOCs should work to maintain harmonious cooperation with their governments and appropriate government bodies (Rule 31, §5). Quite often governments intervene in the operation of sports institutions to an extent that violates the autonomy of sports associations or federations, and even of the NOC, either through financial support by means of regular or special grants, or through legislative provisions. Such intervention becomes easier when government support leads to financial dependence. NOCs should, therefore, organize their relationship with the government in a way that ensures that the support they receive does not turn into subordination and dependence.

The fact that the European Parliament has been dealing with this problem since 2009 shows how serious it is. The “White Paper on Sport,” sets out the guidelines that will create the future framework of the European Policy for Sport, taking into account the specific nature of sport and respectful of its autonomy and self-governing status (Μ. Μavromatis, 9th Congress of Sports Administration – The Olympic Movement in society, 2008).

Moreover, history teaches us that politics have always been present in the development of the Olympic Movement, since its inception, and participate in all the facets of social life, including sport politics and sport that must live together and establish a general framework of mutual respect (J. A. Samaranch, p.88).

If NOCs realize that there are political interventions that abolish the autonomy of the Olympic Movement in their country, or that the principles of the Olympic Charter are not respected, they should immediately notify the IOC and ask for its help.

### The Obligations Of NOCs And Financial Resources

The NOCs have the exclusive powers for the representation of their country at the Olympic Games and world competitions and must participate in the Games of the Olympiad by sending athletes (Rule 31, § 3). This means that they also have the obligation to develop Olympic preparation programs to enable their athletes, if they cannot win a medal, to participate in a fitting manner. The problem of the athletes’ preparation in those difficult economic conditions is extremely complex. Already since the beginning of the last decade, it has become clear that there will be cut-downs in government grants in the future, and several governments have communicated their views and encouraged their National Federations and NOCs to seek new sources of financing for sport. In return, they propose concluding agreements with private sponsors. The Greek government, in the context of its austerity program, has already reduced by 20% the Federation’s budget for 2010. In my opinion, the end of government grants, for NOCs in particular, will be a serious blow to sports promotion and development. What’s more, under difficult economic conditions, even the most traditional national sponsors (banks, foundations, enterprises, etc.) are reluctant. For the National Sponsorships ‘experiment’ to succeed, NOCs will have to ask their governments to introduce by law significant tax reliefs, equal to the amounts offered, to provide some kind of incentive to sports sponsors.

I also believe that NOCs should re-assess their sports need In order to reduce expenses by developing a National Sports Plan with priorities and new objectives. This can be achieved by ranking the sports that each NOC will support for Olympic preparation. Specialized studies by sports experts will be needed to establish which sports people like best combined with the country’s sports tradition and citizens’ physical and psychological conditions. Let me give you the example of Greece, a country with a population of 11 million, that finances from the state budget 32 Federations of Olympic Sports (28 summer and 4 winter sports) and approximately 20 Federations of non-Olympic Sports. This cannot go on under the present conditions. It is an enormous waste! Each NOC should, therefore, select, based on strict criteria, the sports to be financed for Olympic preparation among those that have a strong chance of doing well at the Olympics. This choice should be reasoned and based on documented research. Sports that will not be selected could be developed by means of private sponsors’ funds. If their athletes achieve good performances, these sports could then be funded by the State Budget or join the NOC Olympic Preparation Program. In this way, promising sports will obtain larger amounts, while the development of the other sports will continue to be encouraged.

### Olympic Preparation Programs

As already mentioned, NOCs have exclusive powers for the representation of their respective countries at the Olympic Games. This means an additional responsibility for the good appearances of their athletes. Until the Seoul Games (1988), there was no limit to the number of entries. However, faced with the problem of gigantism as new sports were added to the Olympic program, the IOC decided that from the Barcelona Games (1992) onward the number of competitors should not exceed 10,000. This is still the case today, apart from a few exceptions. To ensure that this maximum number will not be exceeded, the IOC, in cooperation with the IFs concerned, every four years establishes, qualification criteria and limits that are different for each (individual-team) sport wishing to ensure participation of athletes from all continents, as well as top level performances. Moreover, in order to help developing countries that are represented by less than six athletes, the IOC may decide to offer a small number of one or two places in each sport. This could also be the case for countries whose athletes failed to meet the IOC’s criteria. The aim of this decision is to allow all countries to participate symbolically and propagate the world spirit of Olympism. Under these new conditions, the NOC of a country that does not have top performance sports and wishes to be represented at the Olympic Games, even by one athlete, should present the relevant request to the IOC that will decide following consultation with the International Federation concerned and the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games. The above clearly show that NOCs must develop programs for the Olympic Preparation of their athletes. The working-out of this program should start right after the closing of the Olympic Games, setting as time horizon the opening of the next celebration of the Games.

The program should also establish, from the very beginning, the selection criteria and limits for the athletes and teams whose Olympic preparation will be supported, depending on the NOC’s objectives each time. This is an objective system that ensures transparency and prevents any political or other interference. During a first stage, based on the criteria, the athletes of the pre-Olympic team will be selected by means of this system. It would, however, be useful for each NOC to set up a special Olympic Preparation Commission whose members would remain, for the whole four-year period, in close contact with the Federations and the athletes to help them solve any problems and guide them. I think it would be a good idea to mention the five main areas on which the Olympic Preparation Program should focus, in my view:

1. The legal framework that governs sports, which should also include incentives for athletes of all levels.
2. The planning of the sports programs of the country’s federations. This planning should include: (a) the training schedule (in the country and abroad), (b) the competition schedule (for qualifications, goals), (c) scientific support (ergometrics, sports medicine, physiotherapy, psychology, etc.)
3. Planning control and monitoring by the NOC.
4. Assistance and support by state bodies, mainly the Ministries of Education, Defence, Health, Labour, etc.
5. Financing of programs from the state budget. It should be noted here that the IOC does not give NOCs any finances for their Olympic preparation. However, as we will see further on, direct financial assistance can be provided to elite athletes through Olympic Solidarity.

At this point, it is worth noting that the Hellenic Olympic Committee developed in 1986 for the first time an Olympic Preparation Program for the Olympic Games with limits and criteria for the athletes who would be taking part in the Seoul 1988 Olympics. These criteria were accepted by all Federations when they were submitted to them; however, during the plenary meeting (30.08.1988) that would finalize the list of athletes to be entered for the Games, a number of Federation representatives expressed reservations when it became apparent that wellknown athletes would be excluded from the Games because they failed to meet the criteria and limits. In the end, by an overwhelming majority (23–2), the Plenary of the Hellenic Olympic Committee decided to respect the criteria. As could be expected, after the announcement of the Olympic Team from which some famous names were missing, there was a general outcry against the decision on the part of the athletes who had been excluded and by their Federations. Moreover, there were also some unexpected political reactions. The aunt of an excluded sailing athlete, who was Deputy Minister of Education, resigned after denouncing the Hellenic Olympic Committee and demanded the athlete’s Inclusion in the Olympic Team.

Despite strong reactions and unbearable pressure, the Committee did not change its decision, and so the criteria and Olympic Preparation Programs were established in this way and are regularly readjusted. These programs proved to be extremely useful. Greece, from a single medal in the 1988 Olympic Games, reaped 16 medals in 2004 and has achieved excellent results in all sports at the international level. For history, let me mention that the excluded athlete who was 18 at the time won three Olympic medals at the next Olympiads, is still competing today, and represents a shining example for our youth, a model of sports ethics and fair play, and offers huge services to sports education.

### The IOC’s Financial Support To NOCs

NOCs can, under certain conditions, obtain financial support from the IOC through the Olympic Solidarity Commission. This Commission, in accordance with Rule 8 of the Olympic Charter, is responsible for the management and redistribution of the share of the television rights from the broadcasting of the Olympic Summer and Winter Games, which belongs to the NOCs and represents 6%. The Commission is chaired by the President of the IOC, and it develops programs for technical, educational, and financial assistance. These programs are numerous and varied, and their aim is to promote the development of sport, from grass root to top performance level throughout the world, by helping athletes in each country.

NOCs have the right to use all these programs that enable them to implement their activities and draw upon the financial benefits resulting from the celebration of the Olympic Games in order to develop and support sport in their countries.

Today, there are 21 programs that cover four main areas of action: athletes, coaches, NOC management, and special issues. These programs help developing countries, in particular, and those facing financial difficulties, in the last stage of their athletes’ preparation for the Olympic Games.

1. Athletes: (a) preparation in training centers and participation in qualifying competitions, (b) individual scholarships for participation in the Olympic Games, (c) identification of new talents at national level. The athlete is the central figure of the Olympic Games.
2. Coaches: The coach’s role for the athletes’ preparation is pivotal. The object of these programs is to offer coaches the possibility to acquire the necessary technical knowledge with the help of specialized programs, such as,

* technical courses at national and regional level for all sports;
* Scholarships on sports science subjects in academic establishments and training in specific sports; and
* development of the national coaching structure with the support of a foreign coach who will train national coaches, training programs, etc.

3. NOCs can use and benefit from programs of

* administration assistance, technological and IT support and electronic communication, marketing;
* sports administration for NOC officials; and
* further education of their country’s sports administrators.

4.Finally, NOCs are given the opportunity to draw upon Olympic Solidarity’s programs concerning the Environment, Women for Culture and Education, Sports Medicine, Sports for All, etc.

### NOCs – The Problem Of Doping And Violence

As mentioned already, the problem of doping and violence originated in the previous century. Unfortunately, despite the efforts that were made in this first decade, far from diminishing, they are steadily increasing.

Doping, in particular, is the scourge of modern sport. Doping cases have not dropped. Random, out-of-competition controls, as well as those performed during the Olympic Games, show, in fact, that their number is rising. Some theoreticians report that the IOC and the NOCs, despite the Olympic Charter’s strict provision (Rule 31, §2.6), did not realize from the start, the magnitude of the problem; they reacted with laxity and leniency and failed to arrive at a precise definition of doping. This view is partly correct, for it is true that the IOC for the first time in 1987 (94th Session) encouraged governments to apply the general legislative measures on combating drugs and to adopt specific laws for doping. Until then, the use of banned substances and methods was only punishable by disciplinary sanctions, as it was considered to be just a sports offence. Very few countries, including Greece (1975), considered this to be a criminal offence as well, entailing harsh sanctions against user athletes, and even harsher for traffickers and pushers. I was among the first who affirmed that doping was also a criminal offence, as it harms: (a) the athlete’s health, (b) sport’s social and cultural role, and (c) the authenticity of the sports result (cf. IOC 1986). Closing this subject, I believe that doping is the outcome of sport’s commercialization, which has permeated the Olympic Movement. The gold bars and the astronomical bonuses handed out at the different Grand Prix, drive athletes to the use of banned substances. Furthermore, the commercial contracts that top athletes are allowed to sign with different sponsor companies of the Olympic Games for their products’ promotion, in addition to acting as an incentive for greater efforts, are also an incentive for higher profits, which will also lead to the use of banned substances. In this way, one of the fundamental principles of the Olympic Movement, the principle of _fair play,_ is abolished.

I am not a pessimist, but I am worried about these very close contacts with huge financial Interests.

Violence is a phenomenon, which has existed since man was born, and has remained, through time, a major component of human life in all its manifestations that has grown periodically.

Sport, which is closely linked to social life, could not prevent the arrival of violence in its domain, all the more so since competition is one of the elements of sport. We are talking about the violence that breaks out inside and outside sports venues, often with tragic results, as people lose their lives or are seriously wounded, and facilities extensively damaged. Violent incidents were originally limited to football matches, but, as time went on and the phenomenon became stronger, these incidents also occurred during the meetings of other team events.

As the number of these incidents was growing after the Heysel tragedy (1985), European governments were compelled to sign the European Convention on Violence at Sports Events (1986). Furthermore, in 1997, the European Union included in its program for combating criminality the amount of 600 million euros for the period 2007-2013. At the same time, the Council of Europe adopted a Code of Sports Ethics.

All the above measures, combined with Rule 31, paragraph 2.5, of the Olympic Charter, do not appear able to control this social phenomenon that is steadily expanding.

In this area, NOCs are invited to take action in order to support the ideological framework of Olympism. This should be an educational action, for this lasting phenomenon has shown that repressive measures alone are not enough. Sports education and Olympic philosophy must become part of school educational programs. This will lead to prevention that is far better than repression.

### NOC Marketing And The Commercialization Of Olympism

There is no doubt that in the days of Juan Antonio Samaranch’s presidency (1980-200), the Olympic Movement achieved financial independence, mainly through the exploitation of TV rights and marketing activities under the TOP program. At the same time, however, the number of athletes was growing, as new sports that had interest for only a limited number of sports fans were added. This led to the gigantism of the Olympic Games and to the considerable expansion of their program. The IOC became aware of the problem and decided to remove a number of sports but added others. The risk of commercialization was very much present, and it was important to achieve a delicate balance, in the marketing sector, in particular, to prevent the selling off of the Olympic Idea and Symbols (Olympic emblem, Olympic flame, etc.) in return for financial profits.

NOCs can improve their finances by offering, with caution, their emblems to National Sponsors, in accordance with the Olympic Charter.

Sport today becomes identified with business activity. Each sector sustains the other. Owners of big teams, athletes’ and coaches’ managers, fan clubs, etc., are involved in these transactions. The commercialization of sport is linked to the globalization of the economy and the domination of multinationals to the detriment of the real values of Olympism. I believe that the NOCs, through their representatives who are IOC members, should sound the alarm, because if this situation persists, sport will become the image of capital and capital the image of sport. However, one of the IOC’s powerful figures, R. Pound, affirms that without commercialization and because of the enormous cost of staging the Olympic Games, no government would be able to meet the expenses of such a huge and costly event.

### Epilogue

It is quite possible that, to quote Michael Paine, the IOC’s Marketing Director:

> The Olympic Games have avoided disaster and become the best known franchise brand. The answer though comes from the past, from Pierre de Coubertin himself, ‘My friends and I have not worked to give you the Olympic Games so that they will be turned into a museum object or a subject for the movies (there was no TV at the time), nor so that commercial or political interest should take them over.’

I leave it to you to draw the conclusions.