Lausanne capitale olympiqueToday marks the centenary of Lausanne’s love affair with international sport federations as it was a hundred years ago (on 10 April 1915, i.e. during World War One) that the Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin signed an agreement in the city’s town hall that would relocate the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee from Paris to the shores of Lac Léman in the canton of Vaud.

As part of the commemorations, the city of Lausanne released yesterday morning a press communiqué referring to a study commissioned together with the canton of Vaud and the International Olympic Committee which examines the financial impact of the many international sport federations headquartered in Switzerland on the economy of the host country.

Entitled ‘The Economic Impact of International Sports Organisations in Switzerland 2008 – 2013’, the report is to my knowledge the third of its kind in only a couple of years and, as such, it may well have been commissioned to help fend off some of the criticism that is increasingly being levelled against international sport federations such as the International Olympic Committee and the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association, based in Zurich), amongst others.

Based on my reading of the executive summary and on some keyword searches in the full version of the document, the report seems (surprise, surprise?*) to limit itself to presenting a rather glowing analysis of the impact of such international sport organisations on the financial health of Lausanne, of the canton as well as of the country as a whole – for example, very little is said about the fact that the international sport federations (some of which have been described as ‘cash machines’) are exempt from paying taxes as they fall under the category of non-profit organisations under Swiss law.

The press release issued yesterday by the public authorities here (the communiqué bears the name of the ‘ecologist’ mayor of Lausanne and, as such, the report can be deemed to represent the official view of the city of Lausanne) is in the same vein. In fact, it goes even further as it claims that Lausanne owes its international reputation to its sport organisations!

[…] Lausanne’s Olympic status confers upon the city not only notoriety but also credibility, both of which are indisputably recognised as such at the international level. This opportunity for visibility, which again comes with positive economic benefits, could in no way be possible for a city and a region of such sizes without the presence of the international sport federations — first and foremost, that of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This is strengthened further by the support the public authorities of Lausanne and of the canton of Vaud continue to reaffirm officially for the presence and development on their soil of the international sport federations. The centenary of the IOC’s relocation to Lausanne, which is being commemorated this year, offers a unique opportunity to highlight both the economic importance of this presence and the public authorities’ commitment in favour of international sport in our country. [my translation of the original text in French]

Even though according to the report there are some 630 people employed here in Lausanne by the international sport federations and although according to the same source these organisations generate some two hundred and fifty million Swiss francs in revenues for the city (which is a huge amount given that there is a substantial number of taxpayers in Lausanne who pay very little in the form of tax contributions), I cannot help but feel that this totally uncritical stance towards the international sport federations on the part of Lausanne’s authorities runs counter to the city’s commitment to the Aalborg Charter (Agenda 21), to which Lausanne is a signatory.

For instance, one could question whether the presence of such federations has had a positive impact or not on the management of scarce land resources and the current construction boom here (urban sprawl), the fiscal appropriateness of the tax exemption granted to such organisations, the ideology that underpins such organisations (given that institutionalised sport – as opposed to the practice of physical activity for mere, non-competitive enjoyment or even for health purposes – seems to be deeply associated with values such as competition, the cult of performance, a ‘winner(s) take(s) all’ ethos, etc.) and so forth. However, a reassessment of the city of Lausanne’s commitment to the international sport federations and to international competitive sport in the light of such criteria is unlikely to happen in the near future and in fact I doubt that it will ever be given that sport has come to be equated first and foremost with big money.

Screenshot from www.3xn.com_winner of the IOC's architectural contest for its new headquartersArchitectural project for the IOC’s new headquarters in Lausanne from 3xn

*Interestingly, it was produced by an organisation (Académie Internationale des Sciences et Techniques du Sport) that has some strong links with the International Olympic Committee: ‘The not-for-profit AISTS was established by the International Olympic Committee […]’, as is acknowledged on the homepage of its website.

Links to other posts relating to this subject on this blog

POSTSCRIPT (13 April)

Yesterday on my way to the train station before I would board a train to Montreux and then to Vevey, I got off at La Riponne to take a few pictures in connection with this entry on the CIO’s centennial presence in Lausanne.

DSCN8456_Hôtel de Ville, Lausanne, 12 avril 2015

Lausanne’s town hall (hôtel de ville), where the agreement between the city’s mayor and the CIO was signed on 10 April 2015.

CIO centenary in Lausanne_various outdoor visuals commemorating the centenary at the Casino de Montbenon_Lausanne 12 April 2015

Various outdoor visuals commemorating the centenary at the Casino de Montbenon, the first location of the IOC – by looking at the pictures of the first members of the Olympic movement which are shown on these ‘posters’, one gets the feeling that the origins of the Olympic movement were strongly tied to a particular social class; as an aside, I spotted a ‘huge’ typo on the first visual (rectangle in red)…

CIO centenary in Lausanne_various outdoor visuals commemorating the centenary at the Casino de Montbenon_these show 'open air exercises' practised close to a hundred years ago in the area_Lausanne 12 April 2015

The near nakedness of the sport enthusiasts who practised the ‘open air exercises’ that took place near the Casino de Montbenon close to a hundred years ago seem to offer a sharp contrast to the formal attire of the founding members of the IOC shown on the posters above, no? One seems to have almost forgotten that Olympism in its early days had to compete with other movements promoting physical exercise, notably the far more holistic German Lebensreform — see for instance this summary of a course on this subject taught a Cambridge University, ‘Modern German Cultures of Performance’, especially ‘German sport in the interwar years’.

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