Liam Morgan

As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board met to agree to whatever decisions President Thomas Bach had come to in Lausanne last week, a group of us in the media were given a tour of a facility which even its director admitted few knew existed.

Tucked away beside the Olympic Museum, located down the hill from the IOC’s temporary headquarters in Pully, is the Olympic Studies Centre.

The unassumed building is a dream for any historian, academic or anorak with an interest in the Olympic Games or the Movement in general.

Neatly categorised on shelves spanning several rooms are books and documents dedicated to past editions of the Games, stretching back to the first Modern Olympics in 1896, sports, athletes and the IOC itself.

Or, to put it in the words of the centre’s website, the facility houses "collections such as the IOC archives, the official publications of the IOC and the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, as well as books, articles and journals”.

The Olympic Studies Centre is a home for reams of information about the Games and the Movement ©IOC
The Olympic Studies Centre is a home for reams of information about the Games and the Movement ©IOC

This might seem like a mundane subject to some and I admit I was somewhat reluctant to join the rabble of media who were invited to check out the centre.

The members of the IOC communications team will not mind me saying that. At times, they are fully aware we are not necessarily buying what they are trying to sell.

But, in this case, I was not alone in being pleasantly surprised.

Whatever feelings you harbour towards the IOC, it is difficult not to be impressed by the sheer volume of information stored at the centre, the main hub of a network of similar facilities dotted all around the world.

Candidature files from every Olympic Games bidding race since 1920 – contests which are fast being consigned to history under Bach’s Presidency – correspondence from founding father Pierre de Coubertin to various officials and dignitaries to biographies on IOC members, the centre, complimented by an online service called the "Olympic World Library", has it all.

One of the documents housed at the facility is the legacy report from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. When we were shown it by the head of the centre, Maria Bogner, a few of us cynics could not help but quip: “Well, that can’t be particularly long…”

The centre is located on the site of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne ©Getty Images
The centre is located on the site of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne ©Getty Images

Rather sceptically, I assumed the building would be merely stacked full of files littered with gushing praise for the IOC and its administration, both in its current and former guises, and anything nearing criticism would be banished to the incinerator bin. Bogner insisted that was not the case.

“Don’t worry, you will find critical documents here too!” she said.

Unfortunately for those of us with an eye for that sort of thing, most of those files are buried deep in the annals of the archives.

These special documents, including letters dating back over a century from De Coubertin and others, are kept in the basement of the centre in conditions designed to preserve their authenticity.

We were taken down to a room big enough for no more than eight people, where the temperature and lighting are kept to a certain level, and given an overview of the vast reams of documents stored there.

It includes reports from the IOC administration at the height of the Cold War, documentation on members and files dedicated to boycotts from nations unwilling to compete at the Olympic Games for political reasons.

Also stored there are boxes and boxes of files relating to Canadian IOC doyen Richard Pound, official correspondence between senior members of the leadership and those outside of the Olympic bubble and minutes from Executive Board meetings.

Most of these can be freely accessed – under supervision, of course – except the Executive Board minutes, which are embargoed for 30 years.

To put that into perspective, the minutes from the latest gathering of the IOC’s ruling body last week, where the International Boxing Association was suspended and several new members were proposed, cannot be viewed by anyone outside of the IOC until 2049.

According to those at the centre, this is done to “protect the members”, but it does little to dispel the theory that the IOC is a secretive organisation which merely pays lip service to transparency.

Even the World Anti-Doping Agency, which has been through the most tumultuous period in its relatively short history following the Russian doping scandal, openly publishes minutes from its meetings.

Should you wish to do so, you can read through the exact details of the discussions held on a January conference call of Executive Committee members as they mulled over whether or not to punish the Russian Anti-Doping Agency for its failure to meet a December 31 deadline to grant access to the Moscow Laboratory.

It does not appear such candour will be making its way to Olympic Towers any time soon and the answer we received when a couple of us asked what the statute is for the Ethics Commission’s minutes told its own story.

“There isn’t one,” a staff member at the centre replied. “It could be 100 years.”

While it was perhaps not surprising to hear the information was under embargo, the length of the time restriction certainly raised an eyebrow or two.

I was similarly taken aback by Bogner’s honesty when she conceded that the Olympic Studies Centre, which she describes as "one of the most unique collections in the world on the Games", was not a path well-trodden.

“Many people do not know we are here,” she said.

It is a shame, as the myriad information stored at the building she runs is staggering, both in its quantity and its quality.

The IOC has been culpable of questionable decision-making in recent years but creating this centre, and lending the facility its support, is not one of them.