Philip Barker ©ITG

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board (EB) gathers in Greece this week to begin the second century of its existence.

The EB has "general overall responsibility for administration" and has met almost once a month this year, a frequency that would have astounded members a century ago when it was first established.

The unprecedented postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics created a near parallel to the situation after the First World War.

The EB, like so many of the elements of the Olympic Movement, was created by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Although he did not formally become IOC President until after the first Modern Olympics held in 1896 in Athens, he effectively led the Movement for almost a quarter of a century, but by 1921, he was ready to take a step back.

He had made no secret of his need for "elbow room" and engineered Paris and Amsterdam as successive host cities for 1924 and 1928, to create "stability" for whoever eventually succeeded him as IOC President.

This was echoed in the decision to grant the 2024 and 2028 Games to Paris and Los Angeles respectively. Then earlier this year, the EB installed Brisbane as "preferred candidate" for 2032, a recommendation which was endorsed by the full IOC Aession in Tokyo.

The actual process by which the decision was reached has not been revealed as EB minutes are subject to a 30-year embargo.

In his official IOC history, author David Miller asserts that: "From the moment of its inception, the Board was to play an increasingly important role in the IOC’s operation".

A century ago, Coubertin revealed that "under the pretext of a long journey which I had planned at the time," he persuaded his colleagues "to approve the creation of an Executive Board".

It was to be led by Godefroy De Blonay of Switzerland, who had served as Interim President during the war years, when Coubertin had felt unable to do so after enlisting in the French army.

This "enlarged bureau" included two future IOC Presidents. Count Henri Baillet-Latour of Belgium and Sigfrid Edström, the Swede who led World Athletics.

The IOC Executive Board is next scheduled to meet on Saturday (October 16) ©Getty Images
The IOC Executive Board is next scheduled to meet on Saturday (October 16) ©Getty Images

It was to be "a consecration in law of an already well established state of affairs".

Coubertin chose the Frenchman Melchior, Marquis de Polignac, and Jiri Guth-Jarkowsky of Bohemia, as the other members of this influential group.

De Blonay and Guth-Jarkowsky were not present at the first meeting but Coubertin did attend. It was held in Paris.

The veteran British IOC member Reverend Robert Courcy Laffan, who happened to be visiting the city, was also present.

There had been a preliminary meeting the previous day of an "administrative commission" where Edström gave a summary of the parameters of their work.

Baillet-Latour was named chairman. De Polignac was appointed secretary. For many years it was known as an "Executive Commission".

At the first meeting, they discussed Olympic participation and reaffirmed that there should be no classification of nations, otherwise known as the medal table.

It was also noted that the organisation of the Games would be entrusted to the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of the country in which the host city was situated.

The obligations of the host city were also set down.

The second Executive Commission meeting in 1922 was also held in Paris. This discussed the regulations of women’s sport as stipulated in Olympic regulations. The minutes are sparse which makes it difficult to discern the exact course of the discussion.

Then as now the Olympic programme was debated regularly. This was partly to ensure that sports complied with regulations on amateur status.

In 1923, they met in Lausanne which became a familiar location for the Olympic cabinet.

They discussed the contract signed with Chamonix for the first "Olympic Winter Sports" week in 1924. This was later retrospectively designated as the first Winter Olympics Games.

Sigfrid Edström, left, was one of two future IOC Presidents on the first Executive Board ©Getty Images
Sigfrid Edström, left, was one of two future IOC Presidents on the first Executive Board ©Getty Images

The arrangements for Paris 1924 were well in hand and included the provision of a special stand for IOC members and a proposed competition to design the medals.

They also made preparations for an Olympic Congress, scheduled for Prague in 1925.

At the time, the IOC awarded medals for aeronautics and mountaineering. De Polignac and De Blonay were given the task of monitoring suitable candidates for each award.

At a later meeting, Coubertin’s proposal to create a technical committee for sport was accepted.

Board meetings were less frequent but still important because it was often difficult to assemble the entire membership for full IOC Sessions. As the 1936 Olympics in Berlin approached, there was growing opposition in the United States because of Nazi persecution of the Jewish community.

IOC member Lee Jahncke, a commodore in the US Navy, voiced his opposition to the Games, but when the executive met in Garmisch Partenkirchen before the Winter Games, it decided that he had "betrayed" IOC interests. Jahncke was later expelled by the full IOC session, well aware of the feelings of the executive.

After the Second World War, the first Board meeting took place in London.

IOC President Baillet Latour had died in office during the war.

Vice-president Edström had tried to keep lines of communication open and reported that IOC holdings totalled CHF28,705 (£22,700/$30,950/€26.750).

He chaired a meeting attended by American Avery Brundage and Lord Aberdare from Britain where the rapid re-establishment of the Games was a priority.

They circulated a postal voting form to members to choose the 1948 host cities with a strong hint.

"The Committee decided to propose London for the Summer Games and St. Moritz for the Winter Games".

Whilst in London they took the opportunity to inspect Wembley Stadium and "found it satisfactory (after certain improvements and additions had been made)".

They also resolved to "bring to the attention of the world the importance of the Olympic Movement. It is essential that the world has a better understanding of the aims and purposes of the IOC."

London was the Executive Board's choice to hold the 1948 Olympics ©Getty Images
London was the Executive Board's choice to hold the 1948 Olympics ©Getty Images

The EB began a hunt for "new men with active interests in sports and suitable qualities as members of the IOC" and insisted that "Political influence in the movement should be avoided".

The 1960s proved a decade of protest and at the time of the 1968 Games, students demonstrated against poverty in Mexico City at the Plaza de Tres Culturas. Security forces opened fire, and it is estimated that at least 300 people died.

The EB included future IOC President Lord Killanin. He described an "agitated" Session.

The Mexican IOC vice-president Jose de Jesus Clarkm a military general, claimed "More people were killed in traffic accidents in Mexico every day than had been shot in the square that night", recalled Killanin in his memoirs.

In 1972, the leadership faced an even greater crisis at the Munich Olympics.

Terrorists infiltrated the Athletes’ Village and took hostages from the Israeli team. As a siege unfolded, the EB members hurried back to Munich from other Games venues.

Very soon the full IOC Session was to reconvene, though there was little they could do to prevent a tragic outcome when all hostages died after a rescue attempt went wrong at Fürstenfeldbruck air base.

That year, the EB was also concerned with the enforcement of Olympic regulations. President Brundage, a fierce defender of amateurism, was angered by the commercialisation of the Winter Olympic sport, in particular Alpine skiing, and targeted Karl Schranz of Austria. "Schranz, of all the skiers, who has been a 'living advertisement' for many years," Brundage told the EB.

Schranz was expelled from the 1972 Games in Sapporo.

Killanin warned the EB £"by disqualifying Schranz, the IOC would be making a martyr of him".

Emma Terho, as head of the IOC Athletes' Commission, sits on the Executive Board ©Getty Images
Emma Terho, as head of the IOC Athletes' Commission, sits on the Executive Board ©Getty Images

Schranz returned home to a hero’s welcome and effigies of Brundage were displayed in Vienna.

Later in the year, the Board was angered by the behaviour of Americans Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett at the men’s 400 metres victory ceremony. Both stood arms akimbo on the top of the podium as the American anthem was played. This was a protest against racial discrimination.

Brundage branded it "a disgrace to sport, to the Olympic Movement and to the United States".

The pair were "to be eliminated from taking part in any future Olympic competitions".

Later in the decade, the Olympic Movement faced further political threats. The problem of apartheid in South Africa continued to cast a shadow, even though South Africa was formally excluded in 1970. In 1976, the EB was confronted with the fallout from a New Zealand rugby tour of the republic. This had prompted a boycott of the Montreal Olympics by many African nations.

It was not until the end of the following decade that progress came at last.

An EB meeting held in Belgrade resolved to "offer concrete assistance to the most underprivileged athletes in South Africa."

It set up a commission headed by IOC vice-president Keba M’Baye from Senegal, which reacted to a fast-changing situation. As apartheid was swept away, South Africa returned to the Olympic fold in 1992.

At the same Games, the EB formulated a plan which enabled athletes from Yugoslavia to participate even though the United Nations had imposed sanctions on the country as the Yugoslav Wars escalated.

The Board meeting in December 1998 proved the backdrop for the biggest scandal to hit the IOC.

As members gathered in Lausanne, there had been rumours about improper activities at the time that Salt Lake City was chosen as host city for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The Salt Lake City bribery scandal is among the more serious issues the Executive Board has had to tackle in the last quarter-century ©Getty Images
The Salt Lake City bribery scandal is among the more serious issues the Executive Board has had to tackle in the last quarter-century ©Getty Images

Spanish IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch had told his EB colleagues "the matter was very serious indeed".

As the meeting continued, the veteran Swiss IOC member Marc Hodler spoke to the media of widespread bribery in the bidding process. A full-scale investigation and the expulsion of six IOC members followed.

A consequence of the reforms was a decision to confer full IOC membership on members of the Athletes' Commission. There was also an EB seat for the head of the Athletes' Commission, currently Finnish ice hockey player Emma Terho.

For almost the first 70 years of its existence, the EB had been exclusively male.

Sport for women had been discussed back in the 1920s. The executive decided to allow those who had competed as single women to change nationality if necessary when they married. "They would only be able to do this once."

The IOC membership as a whole did not include women until 1981,when Finnish athlete Pirjo Häggman and Venezuelan equestrian administrator Flor Isava Fonseca were co-opted. In Tokyo at the 1990 Session, Isava Fonseca became the first woman to be elected to the EB.

"It was something unheard of. No-one thought they would see a woman sitting there," Isava Fonseca later told a United Nations project.

"I took my job very seriously."

In 1997, Anita DeFrantz, a US rowing bronze medallist in 1976 was elected as vice-president and the wind of change was finally being felt.

Nicole Hoevertsz of Aruba is the latest woman to serve as vice-president and the present EB includes four other women.

In May 2000, the EB which decided "that entitled athletes from East Timor should be allowed to take part in the Sydney Olympic Games." No NOC existed but the EB decided that they could compete as "individuals under the Olympic Flag".

The IOC has claimed credit for helping Afghan Olympians and Paralympian flee the country ©Getty Images
The IOC has claimed credit for helping Afghan Olympians and Paralympian flee the country ©Getty Images

The EB arranged for an IOC delegation to visit the territory headed by vice-president Kevan Gosper.

"Our visit is only the first step in what will be a long process of rebuilding sport in East Timor," Gosper said.

After competing under the Olympic Flag at Sydney 2000, the Timorese were soon able to compete in their own right.

Gradually at the prompting of the EB, the Games themselves became more equal in terms of men’s and women’s events.

It was the EB which ushered in ski jumping for women in 2011.

The postponement of Tokyo 2020 was the cue for even more regular gatherings for the Executive Board.

The uncertainty over COVID-19 was compounded by further political problems.

Last year, a ban on prominent Belarusian Olympic officials was handed down after details emerged that some athletes had been persecuted for supporting opposition groups in the country.

In the weeks following Tokyo 2020, the EB announced the suspension of North Korea which had not taken part in Tokyo, and thus "failed to fulfil one of the fundamental duties and obligations of a National Olympic Committee", said the judgement.

The EB also considered the crisis in Afghanistan. IOC President Thomas Bach insisted that: "As a result of all our efforts, all athletes who participated at the Olympic and Paralympic Games are outside the country." He said that around 100 members of Afghanistan’s Olympic community had received humanitarian visas to leave the country with the help of the IOC.

It was a reminder that although the IOC is ostensibly a sports organisation, it carries wider, more intangible responsibilities. The signs are that these will continue to fall increasingly on the shoulders of the Executive Board in its second century.