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Lausanne celebrates a century of Olympism

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Lausanne celebrates a century of Olympism
IOC President Thomas Bach and Lausanne Mayor Daniel Brélaz shake hands over centennial celebrations. Photo: Ian Jones/IOC
19:40 CEST+02:00
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its arrival in Lausanne with a programme of free public events over the next six months that showcase the city's connection with international sport.

IOC President Thomas Bach launched the anniversary celebrations in the Vaud capital on Friday, exactly 100 years after Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, signed an agreement on April 10th 1915 with Lausanne’s mayor to establish the IOC headquarters in the city.

Two free exhibitions running from now until October 15th will present the history of the committee’s association with Lausanne. 

Photographs exhibited across five key IOC sites in Lausanne provide a glimpse into the IOC through the years, while an exhibition on the Helvétie boat moored outside the Olympic Museum charts the history of Lausanne’s relationship with the IOC and the 36 international sports federations that have followed it to the canton of Vaud in the past century. 

Later, the headquarters and five other buildings associated with the IOC will throw open their doors to the public on the weekend of June 27th-28th for tours, sport initiations and other festivities. 

Visitors will be able to look around the Maison du Sport International, home to some 30 sports federations, and the Villa Mon-Repos, which housed the IOC headquarters prior to its current site in Vidy, while the Olympic Museum will waive its usual entry charges.

“This town is in love with sport,” said IOC President Bach before officially opening the celebrations.

“But it’s not just the number [of sports organizations] that is impressive, it’s the economic impact they have.”

According to a new study by the International Academy of Sports Science and Technology (AISTS), the IOC and international sports federations based in Switzerland generate 1.07 billion francs ($1.09 billion) a year for the economy, of which 550 million is within the canton of Vaud and 250 million in Lausanne. 

The study, commissioned by the IOC along with the cantonal and city authorities, also shows that 2,150 people are employed in Switzerland by the IOC and sports federations.

The presence of these organizations has “huge advantages” for the city, councillor Philippe Leuba, head of the department of economics and sport for the canton of Vaud, told The Local. 

“It’s clear that it fills hotels and restaurants and creates lots of jobs," Leuba said.

“Equally it helps the construction industry," he said.

"Each year around 200 million francs of investment in buildings is carried out by the sports federations here.”

In addition to the economic benefits, Leuba said the presence of the IOC had positioned Lausanne on the international stage. 

“These days sport has become the universal language practised by everyone, and the fact that it’s in Switzerland that these decisions are taken, it’s of course very important for us."


Swiss Sports Minister Ueli Maurer, IOC's Bach and Lausanne Mayor Brélaz at launch. Photo: IOC

Pierre de Coubertin chose Lausanne for the IOC’s headquarters after reportedly enjoying the city on visits to his friend Godefroy de Blonay, the first Swiss member of the IOC. 

Given the turbulent international situation in 1915, Switzerland’s neutrality and security were attractive to de Coubertin, who chose to establish the first IOC headquarters at Lausanne’s Casino de Montbenon.

In 1922, it moved to the Villa Mon-Repos and then again to its current site at the Château de Vidy in 1968.

However, it wasn’t until the presidency of Juan Antonio Samaranch in 1980 that relations between the city and the IOC grew closer. 

Samaranch fostered relations by proposing joint projects between the IOC and Lausanne, and sponsoring sporting events in the city. 

In 1993, he inaugurated the Olympic Museum, and a year later oversaw Lausanne’s baptism as the ‘Olympic capital’, a title that now adorns the main train station. 

Over the years, Lausanne has hosted many major sports events, including the annual athletics meet Athletissima and international equestrian event Global Champions Tour.

Speaking to The Local at the anniversary launch, Lausanne mayor Daniel Brélaz said that while these events showcased Lausanne on the world stage, it was equally important to engage local residents in participatory sport. 

“The idea of sport for everyone is really important,” Brélaz said. 

“We have made good steps in that direction, but we can go further.” 

Current projects to improve the sporting infrastructure of the city include a new ice rink and swimming pool at Malley, and a redevelopment of the football and athletics stadia.

Events like the annual Lausanne 20-kilometre run, to be held this year on April 25th, are also aimed squarely at local people, Brélaz said. 

“Above all we mustn’t only do things that attract global attention but also things that stimulate people to participate in sport.” 

One opportunity to participate as part of the centenary celebrations comes on June 26th when the public can sign up for a free evening fun-run. 

Participants in the 11.5km course (or 5.2km walk) will run past key IOC sites before arriving in the Pierre de Coubertin athletics stadium for a ceremony, concert and fireworks display. 

Also in honour of the centenary, in December the Ouchy terminus of the M2 metro line will be renamed Ouchy-Olympique.

Meanwhile, the IOC awaits the redevelopment of its headquarters in Vidy, due to begin next year.

The 200-million-franc ($204 million) project aims to unite all its 500 employees under one roof.

The redevelopment is an “ambitious project” that will “guarantee our location here in Lausanne,” said IOC President Bach. 

He also confirmed that the city of Lausanne has renewed the IOC’s lease for a further 100 years. 

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