Categories: Sports

A history of Olympic Solidarity

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03 Nov 2022 – Director of Olympic Solidarity during a key period in its history, Pere Miró talks to Olympic Review about how the programme has grown from humble beginnings to become a cornerstone of the Olympic Movement.

When it comes to charting the history and development of Olympic Solidarity, you would be hard-pressed to find a more authoritative voice on the matter than Pere Miró. After all, Miró has been central to the growth of the programme ever since he joined the IOC at the request of then-President Juan Antonio Samaranch in 1992.

He was tasked with leading the Olympic Solidarity Department, and then heading the Relations with the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) Department – during which time the Olympic Solidarity budget expanded considerably and the IOC forged ever-closer relations with NOCs.

Miró stood down from this position in 2019, but continued in the key role of Deputy Director General for Relations with the Olympic Movement until his retirement this year. Now, following an exciting and varied 30-year career at the IOC, Miró is able to reflect on his own proud legacy and that of Olympic Solidarity as a whole, which continues to go from strength to strength.

The Committee for International Olympic Aid (CIOA), the forerunner to Olympic Solidarity, was created in 1962 at a time when many nations were becoming independent – resulting in new NOCs joining the Olympic Movement. Who recognised the need to provide them with assistance and how did this come about?

Pere Miró: The history of Olympic Solidarity can be divided into three parts. The first part spanned its creation in 1962 up until 1980. When Olympic Solidarity was founded, it had no money at all. It had plenty of good intentions, but no real money. But the concept was there. The second part lasted from 1980 until 1997. During this time, Juan Antonio Samaranch was President of the IOC. He became interested in Olympic Solidarity and decided to give it importance in a practical way through the revenue generated from the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984. He invested some of the money that came from the TV rights at the Games into Olympic Solidarity, which meant that it gradually started to accumulate funds.

Also during this period, Anselmo López was appointed as Director of Olympic Solidarity on a voluntary basis. He helped to turn Olympic Solidarity into what it is today because he decided to invest more money into it. His vision was based on two key ideas: first, to provide financial aid to NOCs who were competing at the Games; and second, to support the athletes themselves. He created the concept of athlete scholarships that we still have today, because the practice of giving money to athletes for their Games preparations and to allow them to pay for their travel costs came from this time. It was during this second period in the history of Olympic Solidarity that its funds started to increase.

López also created the management of Olympic Solidarity on a quadrennial basis, so from one Games to the next. During the last quadrennial in which López was Director – between Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996 – Olympic Solidarity received USD 60 million, compared to the USD 4 million it got when López joined in the 1980s.

The third period began in 1997 when Olympic Solidarity decided to start offering a wider range of programmes, structured in a very similar manner as they are today. López stepped down and I was honoured to be appointed by Samaranch as the new Director of Olympic Solidarity. During the first quadrennial between Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000, the budget had grown to USD 121 million. With the increase in funds, it was necessary to structure Olympic Solidarity differently because the NOCs were all depending on this money for the various programmes they subscribed to. We started to move from delivering the absolute basics for NOCs and athletes preparing for the Games, as in previous quadrennial plans, to supporting an even greater number of programmes that covered the full scope of the Olympic Movement.

During the quadrennial between 1997 and 2000, we established the Olympic Solidarity pillars that still exist today. The first pillar is about helping athletes; the second supports coaches; the third helps NOCs in the management of their internal administrations; and the fourth pillar supports NOCs in developing the Olympic values. We still set aside some money to help NOCs physically attend the Games, but this became less necessary because at Sydney 2000, the organising committee paid for their trips for the first time. From this moment, the IOC was no longer obliged to pay for the trips as the organising committee did this instead. Olympic Solidarity held some money back to help with logistics and other essential matters – as is the case today – but it was still the organising committee that paid for the NOCs, the athletes and the Olympic Village. Previously, it was the IOC and Olympic Solidarity that paid for these basic needs.

Since the financial obligations that were previously paid for by Olympic Solidarity were now covered by the organising committees, we therefore got the opportunity to develop the four pillars and expand our work across the full scope of the Olympic Movement.

You’ve touched on the ways in which Olympic Solidarity developed since the time of its creation in 1962. What can you say about the structural reforms and key principles that have underpinned this development?

Pere Miró: From the time of Samaranch, we started to look at the whole package of the Games. All the revenue that was coming in at that time – especially TV rights and marketing – was less than what we have now. There was then an increase in revenue thanks to other income sources, so Samaranch decided to dedicate a portion of that revenue for the organising committees to secure the running of the Games, because we needed to make sure that they were able to do this. In the 1980s, funds used to be distributed among NOCs and International Federations (IFs). Instead of giving the money directly to the NOCs, what Samaranch did was entrust the management of these funds with Olympic Solidarity, with the idea that those NOCs that had the greater need would receive more money. Other NOCs that had access to alternative funding sources could also receive Olympic Solidarity support, but they would not be the priority.

Today – and especially in the last 15 years – Olympic Solidarity has been explaining very clearly exactly how it distributes funding to NOCs. Even though the funds are not distributed equally, the NOCs are happy because they know that Olympic Solidarity is providing a service that they cannot do themselves. Olympic Solidarity is composed of many separate individual actions. For example, a scholarship for one athlete could be USD 15,000 at the end of the four-year cycle. If you think about how many athletes benefit from Olympic Solidarity, this amounts to thousands of small actions. This is the key to the system – the NOCs need the money, and we provide the service. Even though Olympic Solidarity has changed a lot since I became involved – especially the funds available – this fundamental concept has essentially remained the same. Thanks to this approach, we have the best conditions to implement other core principles such as good governance and sound financial management.

What were the major changes in the years when you served as Director of Olympic Solidarity?

Pere Miró: When I joined Olympic Solidarity, a lot had already changed. Yugoslavia and the USSR had already dissolved, which meant there were a huge number of NOCs that did not exist in 1992.

During the Games of that year in Barcelona, Samaranch realised that the IOC had no idea of what was happening in terms of the preparation because there was no dedicated Games department. Everything was done through the Coordination Commission, which visited Barcelona once every six months and afterwards reported back to the IOC, who would then explain to them what they wanted. However, because Samaranch was from Barcelona he had his own network, so he was fully aware of what was happening – what was going well, and what wasn’t. He realised that the information he got from his own network was different from what was reported by the Coordination Commission, so he decided that the IOC needed full control of these commissions. After that, we started to think about creating a department within the IOC to help the Coordination Commission, what the exact role of the Coordination Commission should be, and how it could be much better prepared to visit host cities. And so the Games Department was born.

After Samaranch appointed me as Director of Olympic Solidarity, he asked me to create a new Relations with the National Olympic Committees Department and develop it beyond a simple mailbox containing the email addresses of NOC presidents. What we established was a philosophy of rights and duties between the IOC and the NOCs through Olympic Solidarity. What this meant was that the NOCs had the right to access Olympic Solidarity funds, but they also had an obligation to spend them responsibly and to report on what they did with them.

We also understood that not all the NOCs needed Olympic Solidarity funding. At the time, between 135 and 140 NOCs needed the money, while there were a handful that didn’t.

Through the Relations with the National Olympic Committees Department, we worked with these NOCs to identify the services that Olympic Solidarity could offer beyond financial support. It all fitted together nicely – there were those NOCs who needed the money, those who needed certain services, and ultimately all of them working in harmony with the IOC under the ethos of rights and obligations.

How do you see the role of sport in our increasingly troubled and divided world?

Pere Miró: Sport plays a vital role in our current societies. If I’m honest, I have to admit that, in 1992, what mattered to us as the organisers was how the Games would affect us on a local level. We also wanted to offer the athletes a unique stage on which to perform, and a show for the whole world. Today, we look at how the Games and sport can help to improve health, respect the environment and promote gender equality. The approach has changed a lot. At the end of the day, Pierre de Coubertin’s vision of using sport to build a better world is more relevant than ever.

Over 30 years, I’ve also seen sport’s power to rebuild. I have helped the IOC to be active in the reconstruction process in countries devastated by war. I’ve seen what sport has given to the men and women of Bosnia, Timor-Leste and Afghanistan. Today, we have to believe in that power more than ever.

What role do you see Olympic Solidarity and the IOC as a whole playing in the field of humanitarian support in the coming years?

Pere Miró: Olympic Solidarity funding belongs to all NOCs, so you cannot cut a significant amount of the budget – say, 20 or 30 per cent – and dedicate it to something else. Now that the NOCs understand the system, they are relying on this financial support from one quadrennial to the next. However, the IOC as a whole can certainly be a catalyst for support and lead by example by asking NOCs, IFs, governments and donors to offer support.

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