David Owen ©ITG

For every $6 (£3.70/€5.20) of revenue from the sale of broadcasting rights to the Games that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) collected in its last four-year cycle, $1 (£0.60/€0.90) is being channelled via Olympic Solidarity (OS) on its way back out.

This amounted to $663 million (£470 million/€590 million) from rights for that Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 quadrennium - a substantial wad of cash by any reckoning.

Yet apart from recognising it is OS’s role to redistribute money to the 205 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), I have only ever had the sketchiest notion of the way the body goes about its business.

So, on a recent visit to Lausanne, I sat down with Pere Miró, director of relations with the NOCs and Olympic Solidarity, to try to get a better sense of its inner workings.

Stationed on a bench outside the Olympic Museum with its view over Lake Geneva to the mountains beyond, Miró explains to me that the main blueprint for determining how the funds are divided is a quadrennial plan, drawn up at the very end of the prior quadrennium, once it is known how much TV income OS will have at its disposal. The current plan, covering January 2013-December 2016, for example, was drawn up in its initial guise in late 2012.

This blueprint must be approved in principle by the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity Commission, a 20-strong body, chaired by Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the President of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC). This Commission is appointed by IOC President Thomas Bach and brings together individuals ranging from Athletes’ Commission members to NOC representatives with a special interest in the subject.

Representative for each of the NOCs attending last year's ANOC General Assembly in Bangkok. Handling of their funding is carefully scrutinised ©Getty Images
Representative for each of the NOCs attending last year's ANOC General Assembly in Bangkok. Handling of their funding is carefully scrutinised ©Getty Images

According to Miró - a Catalán who has been at the heart of OS for 17 years under, first, the late Mario Vázquez Raña of Mexico and then Sheikh Ahmad - the Commission meets twice a year. The quadrennial plan must also be ratified by the IOC’s Executive Board.

One of the reasons why I think OS is able to operate largely out of the spotlight is that what starts off as a big chunk of money - particularly in this age of rapid inflation in the value of broadcasting rights for top sports content - is carved up, for the most part, into small portions of, typically, a few thousand dollars each.

It is thus no real surprise when I ask Miró to outline the mechanisms for deciding which specific amounts of money go to which specific places that he should begin his reply with the phrase, “It’s very complex, but very simple”.

He continues: “You have a minimum amount of money that is given to all NOCs…

“The minimum is $125,000 (£78,000/€110,000) a year” - so half a million dollars for the full Olympic cycle.

“$85,000 (£54,000/€75,000) is for what we call ‘Activities’; $40,000 (£25,000/€36,000) for what we call ‘Administration’”

He goes on to explain that Administration money can be used for anything from helping to pay the office rent, to new computers to staff salaries; the Activities payment may be used to “complement” other OS programmes.

“So,” he concludes, “as an NOC, you can get this $125,000 a year just by requesting it”.

In addition to this - “and this,” Miró says, “is the important part” - NOCs may access support packages grouped under OS’s World Programmes rubric.

“You have programmes in favour of athletes, in favour of coaches, in favour of reinforcing the NOC itself and in developing the Olympic values - four different lines,” he explains.

“Each one of the lines has a number of programmes” - there are 17 in total.

“You can look at these as lines of credit.”

Pere Miró has orchestrated Olympic Solidarity for the last 17 years ©Getty Images
Pere Miró has orchestrated Olympic Solidarity for the last 17 years ©Getty Images

He then outlines how NOCs can run down the list of packages - “Line one - athletes; sub-programme one - scholarships for Rio 2016; sub-programme two - scholarships for Pyeongchang 2018; sub-programme three - preparation for Youth Games; sub-programme four - preparation for continental or regional Games; you continue with coaches…

“The lines define what you can get and how you can get it…

“As an NOC, the more you apply for within limits, the more you can get.

“We have a minimum guaranteed of $125,000 a year, and then the rest depends on how active you are.”

One can appreciate how much of a challenge it might be for smaller NOCs to ensure that they maximise their entitlements, and Miró says that in recent years he has tried to encourage his 20 OS colleagues to be as helpful as possible.

“What we have tried to do in recent years – since 2005 - is to move from pure administrators to advisers,” he says.

“I try to get OS people to have the mentality that they are not only administering money in a very cold manner…

“They try to give back advice and say, ‘Have you seen that this money here that you are asking for in this programme, you can get in more efficient manner through another route?’…

“This requires a lot of imagination from the people working for OS.”

Asked how much the most active NOCs might expect to receive by exploiting their OS “lines of credit” as efficiently as possible, Miró replies: “I believe that in this quadrennium, very active NOCs can go beyond $2 million (£1.3 million/€1.8 million) probably.”

A key management tool helping Miró and his colleagues to monitor developments and ensure that as much funding as possible is channelled into the schemes that are most popular with NOCs is a computer-based dashboard programme that has been fine-tuned over more than a decade.

Miró says that this programme “allows us to have a clear picture at any moment of everything, by NOC and by programme”.

He goes on: “The money is to be well used; because of this, we also need flexibility…

“Imagine that a certain amount has been approved for a particular programme over the whole quadrennium, and we notice that after one, two or three years that sum has been exhausted, showing that everyone is using it.

“And imagine that, on the other hand, another programme has spent only 50 per cent of what was made available.

“This can be adjusted…

“Every year, at the end of the year, I present the picture to the Olympic Solidarity Commission and ask for these adjustments.”

Representative for each of the NOCs attending last year's ANOC General Assembly in Bangkok. Handling of their funding is carefully scrutinised ©Getty Images
Representative for each of the NOCs attending last year's ANOC General Assembly in Bangkok. Handling of their funding is carefully scrutinised ©Getty Images

Mathematically-minded readers may have noticed that, even if every NOC were active enough to make valid claims for the $2 million of OS assistance that Miró suggests is theoretically possible, the sums disbursed would still fall a long way short of the $663 million I mentioned at the start of the article.

Bear in mind though that $48 million (£30 million/€42 million) of OS cash has been earmarked for ANOC itself over the quadrennium. There are also OS running costs of $3.5 million (£2.2 million/€3 million) a year, or $14 million (£8.8 million/€13.2 million) in total, to take into account, as well as sums granted to the NOCs’ various continental associations. OS has decided furthermore in this Olympic cycle to take advantage of the bumper increase in television income from 2009-12 to establish a $200 million reserve.

The actual figure expected to be distributed in 2013 to 16, including ANOC’s and the continental associations’ share, should reach around $450 million (£283 million/€400 million), which would still represent an increase of 40 per cent or more from the previous quadrennial plan.

This, in turn, was made possible by a 50 per cent hike - from $2.57 billion (£1.61 billion/€2.26 billion) to $3.85 billion (£2.42 billion/€3.39 billion) - in the broadcast revenues received by the IOC over the 2009 to 12 cycle.

That rate of growth was unsustainable, and TV income from the Sochi 2014/Rio 2016 quadrennium is estimated at some $4.1 billion (£2.6 billion/3.6 billion), equivalent to a 6.5 per cent advance.

Bearing in mind that the Movement also needs to fund the new media channel approved as part of the Agenda 2020 reforms, is there a danger that OS’s pot for distribution to NOCs in 2017 to 20 might actually be lower than in the present quadrennium?

Miró’s response: “I hope not”, repeated twice for emphasis.

He suggests that if necessary, the reserve now building towards that $200 million figure could be dipped into. “But I am optimistic and I believe that we can get that [i.e. about $450 million] also for the next quadrennium at least.”

With FIFA’s present difficulties so much at the forefront of everyone’s mind, I was keen to ask Miró how the Movement had managed to prevent OS’s programmes becoming politicised in the way that some of the football body’s development programmes are widely perceived to have been. Many would argue that this for years helped to consolidate FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s grip on power.

“For me,” Miró says, “the main reason is that in the case of FIFA, the countries involved in the development programmes are national federations, and national federations are those voting in FIFA.

“Our main recipients are the NOCs and, as you know, the NOCs are not the electorate.” Or, at least, a maximum of 15 of the 100-plus IOC members are NOC representatives.

“Because of this,” he continues, “I believe that one thing is very clearly separated from another.

“In this case internal politics and money are clearly differentiated.”

FIFA under Sepp Blatter has been accused of using funding for political reasons ©Getty Images
FIFA under Sepp Blatter has been accused of using funding for political reasons ©Getty Images

Miró goes on to set out some of the mechanisms through which OS seeks to ensure that its system is functioning as it should and that the NOCs are spending the money on what they are supposed to be using it for.

For one thing, all prospective NOC recipients sign an agreement at the start of the quadrennium concerning the way they are audited.

“They are properly audited,” Miró says. “And more than that, we ask for information about these audits.

“And second, our auditors randomly audit about 10 NOCs a year.”

How do they choose which 10, I wonder? Are they able to target-test, as anti-doping authorities do?

“Yes,” Miró replies, adding: “It is kind of random. We have some priorities, but not all those being policed are because of that. Some are.

“We try to make no-one feel absolutely safe. Like a doping control. You can have suspicions, but everyone can be tested. We can be flexible but normally we try to cover all continents.”

Finally, I ask Miró, given the extent to which OS must micro-manage the disbursements it makes, and given the relatively small average size of individual payments, is the burden of paperwork a problem?

Striking the correct balance on this, he acknowledges, is “one of the challenges” – and “in our case, this is doubly important because if the process is complicated, it is disproportionately difficult for less developed countries”.

He describes these as “the most important clients” and concludes: “We are fighting to find the right way, but also we have more and more obligations. We are obliged to do things to be protected. And less than that you cannot do.”

One further consequence of the number and small average size of the disbursements made by OS is that autonomy needs to be more or less built into the system.

“We make thousands of operations every four years,” Miró agrees, “and the amount of money is very small…for the majority we are speaking about scholarships of something like $2,000 (£1,300/€1,800) a month.

“Because of this you need autonomy: to decentralise the responsibilities of the decision-making process…

“You can imagine that I cannot approve each one of the thousands of operations…

“This is a machine that can be very, very, very complicated, because we use this money in very small portions…

“You need to have very clear programmes, very clear lines of request, analysis, decision.

“And all that must be approved at the beginning.

“Afterwards, all you need is a professional team that follows the rules that have been established by the Olympic Solidarity Commission.”

There you have it: Olympic Solidarity - the Movement’s complicated yet simple cash distribution machine.