Philip Barker

The 2024 host city vote was to have been the crowning moment of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Lima. Now that it has been agreed that Paris and Los Angeles will stage the next two Games, the Peruvians may well feel that someone has stolen their thunder.

In fact, Lima will be the setting for what is arguably an even more important vote. Members will choose new members of the IOC Executive Board (EB).

Canada's former IOC vice-president Dick Pound once described it as "the cabinet" of the IOC, saying: "Virtually all the management of the IOC is delegated to its Executive Board".

There are currently 15 members, with the President and four vice-presidents joined by ten others, each elected for four year terms. Typically, they meet three or four times annually.

It has "general overall responsibility" for IOC administration and among its key tasks is looking after "acceptance and selection of candidates for the organisation of the Olympic Games".

EB membership has proved a vital stepping stone for would-be Presidents since its formation. Thomas Bach was first elected at the 1996 Session in Atlanta.

"I think the IOC should increasingly affirm its authority," the German had warned in the official IOC magazine shortly before. "If we let things go, sport will be taken over by lawyers and managers."

Bach became a vice president in 2000 before reaching the top job four years ago.

Thomas Bach served as an EB member before becoming President of the IOC ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach served as an EB member before becoming President of the IOC ©Getty Images

Unlike full IOC Sessions, now broadcast live online, EB meetings are held behind closed doors. The full minutes are not disclosed for 30 years.

From the earliest days, the IOC were concerned that "only approved communiqués to the press are authorised".

It was at the 1921 IOC Session in Lausanne that a Management Committee was introduced. 

"It is important to take measures now to ensure that the Committee functions well," it was stated. "It is proposed that an Executive Commission be formed."

Godefroy De Blonay, the Swiss interim IOC President during the years of the First World War, was put in charge but was unable to attend the initial meeting in Paris.

Initially known as the Executive Commission or Committee, it was to have five members. IOC President Baron Pierre de Coubertin was joined by his fellow Frenchman the Marquis de Polignac, and two future leaders of the Olympic Movement, Henri Baillet-Latour and Sigfrid Edstrom. 

Jiri Guth Jarkovsky from Bohemia had also been named but he too was absent.

Baillet-Latour was named vice president and Polignac as secretary. It was planned they should meet at least twice a year and take "necessary measures to ensure that Olympic rules were adhered to".

Duties also included finance, correspondence, preparation of the agenda for future IOC Sessions and the recommendation of new members. Edstrom was asked to request the Americans to find a replacement for Allison Armour who had resigned in 1919.

Just as it is today, the size of the Olympic sporting programme was a burning issue. In 1922, the Executive recommended its first cuts in the programme, including the athletic pentathlon, 3,000 metre relay and cross-country.

They discussed definitions of amateurism, a major problem destined to stalk the Olympic Movement for the next 60 years and suggested "a person who does not derive any appreciable benefit and is ready to declare it in writing on his honour" .

In 1923, the Executive rejected a British request that competition on Sundays be banned, fully a year before Eric Liddell famously refused to run on that day.

Nineteen-twenty-six was a not a Games year, but it was the first time the IOC had operated without de Coubertin at the heart of things. He had retired as President after almost 30 years.

The very modern concept of "transfer of knowledge" was also introduced.

"In order to give the Games the benefit of the experience of their predecessors, the Executive Committee considered the possibility of attaching to itself a Committee to be composed of the general secretaries of the last two Olympiads and the general secretary of the current Olympiad," the minutes recall.

In the 1930s, American IOC member Ernest Lee Jahncke supported calls for a boycott of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The Executive decided he "had seriously violated IOC statutes betraying the interest of the Committee". They recommended Jahncke's expulsion. 

His replacement, Avery Brundage, advanced rapidly. Within two years he was a member of the Executive and eventually served 20 years as IOC President.

Avery Brundage advanced through the IOC governance ranks quickly ©Getty Images
Avery Brundage advanced through the IOC governance ranks quickly ©Getty Images

In the late 1930s, the Sino-Japanese War forced Tokyo to give up the 1940 Games. "In case of emergency, a vote by telegram about changing the place of the Games shall be taken," decided the IOC Executive.

In fact, there were no 1940 Olympics anywhere as the World War had begun.

President Baillet-Latour died in 1942 and though vice president Edstrom did his best to maintain contacts from neutral Sweden, it was not until peace in 1945 that another meeting of the EB took place. Only Edstrom, Brundage and Lord Aberdare were present but they decided that the 1948 hosts "will be chosen by a vote by correspondence".

Paper voting forms were posted out but the strong hint was to choose London and St Moritz.

The Olympic world was changing and it was agreed that there should be an IOC member in the Soviet Union. There had been no Russian Olympic team since before the 1917 revolution.

The Japanese and Germans were still excluded. The readmission of the latter was complicated by the division of the country into East and West. The Olympic Executive brokered a solution in which the two initially marched under one flag. Brundage was delighted that the Olympic Movement had found a solution which had eluded the political world.

In the 1950s, the Committee became the EB. Over the next 30 years, it was faced by many political problems. After long negotiations, a compromise solution enabled China to compete alongside Chinese Taipei. The wording of the agreement was drafted by an extra EB meeting held, unusually, during the full IOC Session in Montevideo.

An Apartheid and Olympism Commission reported to the EB as events moved swiftly in South Africa after Nelson Mandela was freed. They soon recommended South Africa be re-admitted for the 1992 Games in Barcelona. The EB was also given "full powers" to ensure athletes were allowed to take part following the break-up of the old Soviet Union.

There was one problem to which there was no solution in the mid-1980s. The North Koreans demanded to co-host the 1988 Olympics awarded to Seoul. President Juan Antonio Samaranch and the EB were at the heart of delicate but ultimately unsuccessful negotiations.

The flame was duly lit in Seoul but the EB later received complaints from animal protection groups when "several birds which had alighted on the cauldron had died when the flame was lit". They agreed to look at ways of modifying the ceremony.

The biggest scandal to hit the Movement was brewing.

At an EB meeting in December 1991, the Board debated a proposal to ban visits to candidate cities and receipt of gifts. Both were rejected.

"The Executive Board had been discussing the risks and exposures in the system," wrote EB member Kevan Gosper. "We discussed bringing the vote for the host city back to the Executive Board or having some other process."

Anita DeFrantz made history as the first female IOC vice president ©Getty Images
Anita DeFrantz made history as the first female IOC vice president ©Getty Images

American Robert Helmick resigned from the EB when accused of taking financial advantage of his Olympic positions. "I want to strongly reassert my belief that I have done nothing ever of harm to the Olympic Movement," he stated.

In 1998, the Salt Lake City scandal exploded. When the full extent became clear, the EB recommended the expulsion of six IOC members. A severe warning was given to influential Korean EB member Un Yong Kim.

More recently, Ireland's Patrick Hickey, an EB member since 2012, is "temporarily self suspended" in the wake of a probe into his alleged involvement with a Rio 2016 ticketing scandal. Former EB member Frankie Fredericks has also suspended himself pending investigations into illegal payments.

It had taken the IOC almost 87 years to appoint women to its ranks but Flor Isava Fonseca of Venezuela was the first woman elected to the EB in 1990.

In 1997, Anita DeFrantz of the US broke another barrier as an IOC vice-president. She remains on the EB along with Sweden's Gunilla Lindberg and American ice hockey gold medallist Angela Ruggiero.

The EB celebrates its own 100th birthday in four years' time. When it began life, the Olympic Movement was trying to rebuild after the First World War.

The problems in finding willing candidates to host the Games suggests the future path of the Olympic Movement is almost as uncertain today.