1999: IOC Agenda 21 and the Rio Statement on Sport and Sustainable Development

by Chiara Aruffo

In the last episode, we saw the first concrete initiatives of the IOC about the environmental issue in the two-year period 1996-1997. Let’s now analyze the first official strategy: the Agenda 21, and the subsequent Rio Statement on Sport and Sustainable Development. Sport and Environment Commission, officially established in 1994, continued to work actively to include environmental issues within the activities of the Olympic movement. During the IOC Session held in June 1999 in Seoul (South Korea), the Commission presented the Agenda 21: Sport for Sustainable Development. The IOC’s Agenda 21 is based on the United Nations’ Agenda 21, approved at the Earth Summit 1992. It was indeed the Earth Summit in Rio, that the IOC publicly expressed for the first time its willingness to include the environment in its programmes.

The IOC’s Agenda 21 takes up three of the fundamental themes identified by the United Nations, which actually go beyond the simple environmental issue:

  • improvement of the socio-economic condition;
  • conservation and management of resources in the light of sustainable development;
  • strengthening the role of the “major groups”. The “major groups” identify nine sectors of civil society that are considered fundamental to sustainable development, such as young people, women and indigenous peoples.

The Third IOC Conference on Sport and the Environment took place in Rio de Janeiro in October 1999. Among the participants there were: UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), WHO (World Health Organisation), WWF and Greenpeace, 4 organising committees for the Olympic Games. The 300 participants framed the Rio Statement on Sport and Sustainable Development, which outlines the action plan for the implementation of Agenda 21. The ten points can basically be divided into three sub-groups:

  • The first four points contain the issues to be addressed, such as: sustainable development, cultural, religious, socio-economic, geographical and climate aspects.
  • Points 5 and 6 emphasise the importance of education in environmental protection, and the role that athletes and media can play in this regard.
  • The last four points outline the responsibilities of institutional bodies in the implementation of Agenda 21. The IOC’s Sport and Environment Commission is responsible for promoting and updating IOC’s Agenda 21. In addition, the Commission and UNEP must form a working group to advise and monitor the Agenda 21 action plan. This working group should present updates at the main meetings of the Olympic movement and at the future IOC Conference on Sport and Environment.

In the next episode, we will talk about the Sydney 2000 Olympics, the “Green Games” – at least on paper!

ioc agenda 21
The cover picture of the Agenda 21 document (Credits IOC Sport and Environment Commission).


IOC (2005) Sustainable development of the Olympic Games. Olympic Review.

IOC (2014) Factsheet, the environment and sustainable development.

Langenbach, B. and Krieger, J. (2017) Emergence of the environment policy of the International Olympic Committee: A historical analysis. Journal of Qualitative Research in Sports Studies, 11, 1, 15-32.

Walker J. Ross & Becca Leopkey (2017) The adoption and evolution of environmental practices in the Olympic Games, Managing Sport and Leisure, 22:1, 1-18.

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