Articles & Publications
The International Olympic Academy turns over a new leaf!
Research historians disagree as to who the visionary, who thought of creating the International Olympic Academy in Ancient Olympia was. However they do not disagree that 40 years after the revival of the Olympic Games, their visionary founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin was very concerned about the attempt to distort the meaning of the Olympics, in the 1936 Berlin Games, even though he did not actually attend those Games, and he expressed his concern about the future of the Institution by noting: “...unfortunately, I was not able to complete what I wanted to do.
I believe that the creation of a Centre for Olympic Studies would contribute more than anything else in preserving and continuing my work and would protect it from deviations, which I am afraid will occur in the future”.Already however, the initial idea to create an Olympic Studies Centre in the form of an ancient “gymnasium” had been expressed a lot earlier, by Ioannis Chrysafis, a professor at the University of Athens, who, in 1927, met his close friend Coubertin, when he visited Ancient Olympia and possibly discussed this idea with him.When in 1938, Carl Diem, an important German stakeholder in sports and great philhellene visited Ancient Olympia on the occasion of the ceremony for placing the heart of the late Pierre de Coubertin in the well-known commemorative stele, which now dominates the area of the Academy according to the wishes of this great man, it appears that he conceived the idea of carrying out Coubertin’s vision to create this Centre for Studies, in the sacred space that was so beloved by the founder of the Olympic Games.The following year during the 39th IOC Session in London, the IOC member for Greece, Angelos Volanakis, informed its General Assembly that Greece (i.e. the Hellenic Olympic Committee) had created a Sports Academy in Ancient Olympia and that the IOC had decided to place it under its aegis.The plan for a comprehensive Olympic Studies Centre was presented by John Ketseas, President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee and second member of the IOC for Greece, during the 44th IOC Session in 1949, who in collaboration with Carl Diem lay the groundwork to create the IOA in Ancient Olympia. Ketseas and Diem envisaged an Olympic Academy placed under the protection of the IOC and which would operate with the financial support of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, whose aim would be “... to spread the Olympic idea and ideals and to help in the education and training of young men to become worthy heralds of the Olympic ideals”.
In 1961, the IOA opened its gates and a year later and on the occasion of the 2nd International Session, Avery Brundage, then President of the IOC, characteristically stated: “We have many problems due to the astonishingly rapid growth of the Games, since there has not been time with our organization of volunteers to educate everyone in Olympic principles. The International Olympic Committee was placed in charge of the Olympic Movement, with the duty to maintain its ideals and defend its principles.We must restate and clearly define our objectives and draft our rules accordingly, and there is no better place to accomplish this than in Greece, a truly Olympic country...”.
Fifty-seven years have gone by since this statement and there have been many phases up to the full recognition of the work carried out in this historic corner of Olympism, in the shadow of the Cronion hill. The building facilities have gradually improved.The initial tents that accommodated the event participants were replaced by the end of the sixties with rooms and dormitories, and during the same period lectures stopped being delivered outdoors and were moved to the first lecture hall and then, in 1994, to the new impressive Conference Centre. The educa- tional activities were multiplied and now are offered to more than 1,200 young women and men each year.The legal structure of the IOA was changed into an independent Legal Entity Governed by Private Law in 2001 and, after 2009, the HOC conceded the exclusive use of the facilities to the IOA, which took on the total financial cost of its operations for the educational purposes set forth in its Statutes.In 2007 the trees within the IOA premises were burnt in destructive fires, leaving the landscape bare and a large part of the structural materials supporting the facilities were destroyed and could not be restored because of the scarce economic means of the Academy.Despite these difficult operating conditions, against such a backdrop the IOA managed to increase its educational events and to cooperate with reputable Universities in Greece and abroad, mainly supported by the IOC and some major donors, without managing, despite the hard work of its staff, to become self-sustainable with a strong financial independence.
From the first months that Isidoros Kouvelos became President of the IOA, he attempted and contrived to gather the necessary grants, so as to replace the state subsidy, which to that point had covered 60% of the total operating expense of the IOA and, due to the economic crisis had been dramatically reduced to 7–8%. The proposal put forth by PresidentIsidoros Kouvelos to the HOC Plenary that full use of the facilities be ceded to the IOA, proved a great success, as the Academy – being a Legal Entity Governed by Private Law – showed itself able to handle many matters related to facilities operation with greater flexibility. At that point, the IOC decided to provide greater financial support to the IOA, in essence covering any deficit at the end of each year.In October 2016, during a work meeting with a high-level IOC team, the IOA President underscored the need for the accommodation and sports facilities in Ancient Olympia to be renovated, in order to become more attractive for holding high calibre Conferences and events. Isidoros Kouvelos repeated this also to President Bach, two months later at a meeting between the two.
Both the IOC President and his immediate associates, Christophe De Kepper and Pere Miró, immediately agreed that the IOA had to undergo a serious face lift and modernise itself, so that it could address changing demands, attracting more events and covering its operational needs to a great extent.Immediately after the re-election of I. Kouvelos at the presidency of the IOA, the IOC took up the matter again, appointing Francis Gabet in charge of the working group, then IOC Director of the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage, with the intention that the renovation requirements for the facilities be recorded swiftly. Initially, the IOA President and associates had limited themselves to proposing a bare minimum of renovations to the accommodation and sports facilities. However, after a subsequent meeting of Presidents Kouvelos and Bach, the latter gave instructions: a) to take complete stock of the facilities’ needs, so that the entire space could be fully renovated; and b) to design the IOA educational programme on a new and more comprehensive basis, so that it corresponds to the role assigned to it historically by the Olympic Movement: i.e. preserving anddeveloping Olympic Education.This was the reasoning behind the visit by Francis Gabet and Panos Tzivanidis, Director of the IOC Corporate Events and Services, and it was with these instructions that they visited the premises and took detailed stock of the needs for an overhaul of the facilities, so that they can be ready for June 2021. Indeed, the latter put the relevant project to the IOC Executive Board on 3 October 2019 and it was unanimously accepted.The decision of the IOC’s Executive Board opens a new chapter in the history of the International Olympic Academy.
The renovation cost shall amount to approximately 12.5 million euros, in conjunction with the more comprehensive new educational programme of the IOA, which is being prepared in collaboration with the IOC Olympic Studies Centre, it will certainly give great impetus to the Academy’s activities, but will also be a significant boost to tourism for the entire area of Ancient Olympia from 2021 onwards.Thanks to the persistence of IOA President, Isidoros Kouvelos and the President Bach’s love of the Academy and his faith in the role it plays within the Olympic Movement, as well as the recognition of its successful course by all IOC members, in 2021, exactly sixty years after embarking on this timeless course, another inauguration of the facilities will take place and a new era for the IOA will be ushered in, under the continuous aegis and protection of the IOC.
“The educational activities were multiplied and now are offered to more than 1,200 young women and men each year.”