The first steps towards sustainability in the two-year period 1996-1997

by Chiara Aruffo

In the first episode we explored the events that prompted the CIO to take an interest in the issue of sustainability. We now investigate the first concrete steps taken in 1996-1997.

The two-year period 1994 and 1995 post-Lillehammer represents a turning point for the IOC’s environmental policy: a cooperation agreement was signed with UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and the Sport and Environment Commission was established. The mandate of the commission was to implement the proposed changes, for which no concrete initiatives had yet been defined. The first concrete steps were taken in 1996-1997.

ioc session atlanta 1996
Opening cerimony booklet of the 105th IOC session, Atlanta 1996
(Credits: the Atalanta Committee for the Olympic Games, Atlanta)

The 1996 IOC Session in Atlanta saw the first participation of the Sport and Environment Commission. The establishment of this Commission was mainly based on the 1994 Lillehammer’s environmental strategies, and in fact two members of the organizing committee were called upon to take part in the commission. The vice-president, Pal Schmitt, in his speech during the Session insisted that “the IOC has a great opportunity and a great responsibility to make itself heard by the whole world on environmental issues”. Therefore, he proposed nine concrete initiatives, such as: the establishment of environmental commissions within the national Olympic committees, the creation and dissemination of educational material, the organization of biennial seminars, the involvement of athletes and the media. Pal Schmitt then closed his speech by asking the IOC to set up a “Green fund” to support the proposed initiatives.

In 1997, the IOC Session in Lillehammer was the occasion for the Commission to present its first results, particularly on the four main themes. The organization of the “Clean-up Day” with the participation of 22 national committees; the creation of a website and magazine on environmental issues in sport; the cooperation with the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) and the World Olympians Association (WOA); the planning of regular meetings and participation in the second Conference on Sport and Environment.

However, there was no mention with respect to the involvement of athletes, and that it was clear that the IOC rejected one of the most significant recommendations: to include the environmental issue in the Olympic Charter. Pal Schmitt himself intervened in defense of the IOC, stating that “the objectives must be considered long-term and not as short-term initiatives”.

In the next episode we will explore the first sustainable strategy of the IOC: the Agenda 21, approved in 1999.

Pal Schmitt 2011 IOC Sport and Environment Conference
Pàl Schmitt at the 2011 IOC Sport and Environment Conference in Doha. (Credits: ATR)


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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