Leadership at the I.O.C. – Mediocre at Best, Miserable at Worst

It’s curious that good leadership at the International Olympic Committee has been a standard so difficult to meet. It’s curious because, given the Olympic ideal, which is performance at the highest level of excellence, one would think its leadership of similar caliber. But it is not. For decades now the I.O.C. presidency has been shrouded by a cloud of suspicion.

In my book Bad Leadership, I wrote extensively about Juan Antonio Samaranch, a Spaniard who was president of the I.O.C. for over twenty years (from 1980 to 2001), but whose reputation as a leader has since been shredded. Derided for his love of money and luxury, for his cronyism and capitalism, and for cozying up to dictators who sanctioned doping, Samaranch bequeathed the presidency of the I.O.C. to Jacques Rogge. A Belgian, whose tenure was less questionable, Rogge nevertheless presided over a series of controversies, including tolerating internet censorship in China during the 2008 summer games.

Now the I.O.C. is led by a German, Thomas Bach. Bach has been president only since 2013, but his time in office has already been other than stellar. Whatever the shining moments in Rio, the games have already been marred, especially by Bach’s decision not to bar all Russian athletes from participating – in spite of the massive evidence of state-sponsored doping.

As Juliet Macur put it, writing in the New York Times, “Instead of using the power of the I.O.C. to stand up to Russia, a nation whose highest sports officials have been implicated in a doping program that lasted at a minimum from 2011 to 2015, Bach withered…. Bach could have set a strong example for nations who dare to cheat…. But he failed, and in so many ways, too. As a Leader. As a voice for clean sports and clean athletes. As someone expected to keep his word.” *

What is it about good leadership? Why is good leadership – leadership that is effective and ethical – so damn difficult to find?! Even among Olympians?


  • July 26, 2016.


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