What’s the IOC – and Why Doesn’t It Do More About Human Rights Issues Related to the Olympics?

Editor’s Note: This article originally found on The Conversation, is co-authored by the Neag School’s Eli Wolff, answers five questions about the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and how they respond to human rights and other issues.

The International Olympic Committee, a nongovernmental organization based in Switzerland that’s independent of any one nation, was founded in 1894. It’s a group of officials who supervise and support the Olympics and set Olympic policies about everything from whether break dancing can be added as an official sport to what’s required for an athlete to compete on a team representing a country where they don’t normally reside. Because the IOC is often in the news, we asked two sports scholars, Yannick Kluch and Eli Wolff, five questions about what it does and why so many people want it to change how it responds to concerns about human rights and other issues.

1. What are the main things the IOC does?

The IOC coordinates what’s known as the Olympic movement, the technical term for the constellation of committees, federations, and other bodies that puts on spectacular sporting competitions every two years.

That includes overseeing the 206 national Olympic committees and 35 international sports federations. The IOC also supervises the specific organizing committees formed for every one of the Olympic Games, seven years before the competitions begin.

The IOC’s 101 members, many of whom are former athletes, meet at least once a year to make important decisions.

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They’re responsible for selecting where future Olympic Games will occur, electing their leaders, choosing new Olympic sports, and making amendments to the Olympic Charter. The IOC’s own officials select candidates for membership in the committee.

Thomas Bach, a German, has served as IOC president since 2013. He regularly convenes its executive board. He represents the IOC during the Games.

The IOC also oversees several humanitarian initiatives such as Peace and Development through Sport, the Olympic Refugee team, and the Olympic Solidarity program. The committee has observer status with the United Nations and promotes a worldwide symbolic ceasefire during the Games known as the Olympic Truce resolution.

Man next to Olympic flag.
Thomas Bach is the president of the IOC. (Eric Dubost/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

2. What’s the IOC’s mission?

The IOC has three main roles. The global nonprofit says “its job is to encourage the promotion of Olympic values, to ensure the regular celebration of the Olympic Games and its legacy and to support all the organizations affiliated to the Olympic Movement.”

In the Olympic Charter, the IOC goes into more detail about its principles, articulating the seven fundamental principles of “Olympism.”

These include placing “sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” promoting the “practice of sport [as] a human right,” a commitment to political neutrality and shielding athletes from discrimination.

The IOC is also supposed to protect the ethics and integrity of the Olympic movement, prevent athlete abuse and harassment, and generally make competitions safe, fair, and accessible for all qualifying competitors.

3. How does the IOC get money, and where do those funds go?

About three-quarters of its funds come from the sale of the rights to broadcast the Olympic Games. It gets most of the rest through marketing deals. The IOC collected more than US $5 billion for the 2014 and 2016 Games, the most recent data it has made available.

Because the IOC operates as a nonprofit, its leaders do not manage this money as they might if it were a private company. Instead, the committee distributes 90% of its revenue to national Olympic committees, Olympic athletes, and other entities, reserving the rest of the money to cover operational expenses.

The IOC also provides half of the funds used by the World Anti-Doping Association, established in 1999 to research and monitor the use of prohibited medications and treatments by athletes. Governments provide the rest of the association’s funding.

Olympic athletes, especially those who compete on U.S. teams, get very low compensation for their participation in the Games, and they are limited in terms of their ability to earn money from marketing deals. Bach, although he is technically a volunteer, earns about $244,000 a year, and other IOC leaders are paid as well.

4. What are some of the controversies the IOC faces?

The IOC’s response, in 2014, to prove that the Russian government was sponsoring systematic doping of its athletes has led to widespread criticism for being too lenient and has sparked controversy ever since. To punish the Russian government, without sidelining all Russian athletes from the Games, the IOC permits them to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” without allowing the use of the Russian flag or anthem.

In 2022, doping remained a problem. That became clear when belated test results showed Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva had used a banned heart medication several weeks before she competed in the Olympics. The IOC’s response to this news appeared to disappoint all sides.

A figure skater on the ice during the Beijing Winter Games, Kamila Valieva of Russia kept competing in Beijing after evidence that she had tested positive for a banned substance came to light.

Vaileva on the ice at the Olympics.
Kamila Vaileva of Russia kept competing in Beijing after evidence that she had tested positive for a banned substance came to light. (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images Sport)

Separately, the IOC has failed to stop corruption in the bidding process for hosting the Olympics, a longstanding problem most recently exposed with the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and the Olympic Games held in Tokyo five years later.

Human rights groups have expressed outrage over the IOC’s decisions that allowed China to host the Olympic Games in 2008 and 2022.

China faces widespread accusations, including from the U.S. government, that it oppresses Uyghurs in China’s western Xinjiang region. This abuse is increasingly considered to constitute genocide.

Many athletes and other people object to China’s repression of the Tibetan people. China has also drawn widespread criticism for cracking down on free speech in Hong Kong.

The United States and several other countries cited these concerns in announcing a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Interestingly, the committee states that “at all times, the IOC recognizes and upholds human rights” on its website.

The IOC has also come under fire for its Rule 50.

Originally adopted in 1975 as Rule 55, it now states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” This is the rationale for why the IOC bars athletes from engaging in protests while they compete or during medal ceremonies.

Time and again the IOC has relied on Rule 50 to justify its commitment to what it calls “political neutrality” as a fundamental principle of Olympism – even when that commitment has contradicted one or more aspects of its mission.

5. Is the IOC neutral and apolitical?

Well, it depends on whom you ask.

“The position of the IOC must be, given the political neutrality, that we are not commenting on political issues,” Bach said when asked about the abuse of Uyghurs by China’s government at the outset of the Beijing Winter Games. “Because otherwise, if we are taking a political standpoint, and we are getting in the middle of tensions and disputes and confrontations between political powers, then we are putting the Olympics at risk.”

In 2020, likewise, Bach wrote that the Olympics “can set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another.”

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Human rights experts and activists around the world, however, have called the IOC’s position to be apolitical a myth and urged the committee to take a stronger stance on human rights abuses.

Shortly before the Tokyo Games began, in the summer of 2021, more than 150 experts on sports, human rights, and social justice – including both of us – published an open letter. In it, we called on the IOC to demonstrate a stronger commitment to human rights and social justice.

“Neutrality is never neutral,” we argued. “As a reflection of society at large, sport is not immune to the social ills that have created global inequities. … Staying neutral means staying silent, and staying silent means supporting ongoing injustice.”

DIRECTV/ WNBA #WatchMeWork Tour Experience with UConn Alumna Xaimara Coss


DIRECTV/ WNBA #WatchMeWork Tour Experience with UConn Alumni Xaimara Coss

Written By Harold Bentley III, Class of 2017

Recently DIRECTV and the WNBA concluded with its #WatchMeWork tour in Santiago, Chile as the tour’s final destination. To create an intimate environment, the #WatchMeWork tour had 30 young at each panel that ultimately reached 120 women in total, across Bogota, Guayaquil, Buenos Aires and Santiago. These diverse, high school aged women came the DIRECTV Escuela+ schools, local basketball clubs and the Special Olympics.

UConn Sport ManagemenSMt Alumna, Xaimara Coss took part in the DIRECTV/WNBA #WatchMeWork tour, in Buenos Aires and Santiago, as a panelist representative for the NBA.   Others that contributed to the DIRECTV/WNBA #WatchMeWork tour included Brooklynettes dancer, Melissa Ramos and WNBA legend, Allison Feaster who attended all of the panels throughout the tour. In addition, Stephanie Vieira represented the NBA on the panels in Bogota and Guayaquil. The DIRECTV panelists included a local reporter in Ecuador and representatives from numerous departments across DIRECTV in the other markets. Combined, the panelists offered an impressive perspective on diverse career paths throughout the sports/entertainment industry and served to inspire young women to advance their own professional pursuits.

Xaimara described her experience as being extremely grateful for the opportSMunity and thankful to have participated in the DIRECTV/WNBA #WatchMeWork tour.  Xaimara was tasked with sharing her journey in sports with these young women, ages 13-18, in the hopes that she could inspire and encourage them.  In response, she noted that in actuality, it was her that was inspired by these young women.

In addition, based on Xaimara’s opinion, the DIRECTV/WNBA #WatchMeWork tour defines the organization’s vision for Corporate and Social Responsibility. Xaimara mentioned this experience was more than just a simple idea which led to creating a panel and organizing clinics, it was a huge achievement for the WNBA and a great way to celebrate 20 years of accomplishments.  The collaboration with DIRECTV proved to be a successful one and their team did an extraordinary job in every city.

A big congratulations to Xaimara for being a proud UConn Alumna and terrific NBA ambassador!

UCONN’s Men’s Basketball Head Manager Experience

UCONN’s Men’s Basketball Head Manager Experience

Written By Konnor Bachman, Class of 2017

Throughout my time at UConn, whether it be undergrad or grad school, I have had the opportunity to travel to some very cool places and see some very exciting things through working with the basketball team. One such experience was going down to North Texas to witness a National Championship. There are very few events that I have had the opportunity to witness that were bigger than the Final Four. As a pure basketball fan, it was an opportunity to see our team go up against some of the best competition in the country. We ended up beating Florida (the number one overall seed on a 20+ game winning streak) in the national semifinal, and Kentucky (nearly an entire roster of players who would leave for the NBA Draft that year or the following year) in the final.

As a young professional aspiring to work in basketball, though, it was even more special for me. I got to see how much work goes into such an event, and how structured and specific everything has to be. Everywhere we went, there was a set schedule with a very specific time limit as to when we were allowed to do things. For example, each team was allotted a 90-minute practice – anything above that would result in a technical foul. There were very precise amounts of time in which the media was allowed into our locker room to interview our student athletes and coaches. Everywhere we went, the NCAA typically had some type of regulation as to what we were supposed to be doing and when we were supposed to be doing it.

To all those who enjoy watching and experiencing college basketball, I would recommend getting to a Final Four at some point in your life. It is so much more than just the ending of a basketball tournament – it’s a life experience. There are concerts, games, and tons of activities on top of watching some extremely competitive and fun basketball games. Hopefully we get back to the Final Four next year!

UNH Cat Crew

UNH Cat Crew

Written By Matt Garrison, Class of 2017

The marketing internship I took part in during my junior year at the University of New Hampshire was called the “’Cat Crew” and it consisted of about 12 students. Each ticketed sport (Men’s & Women’s Hockey, Men’s & Women’s Basketball, Football, and Gymnastics) was allocated 2 students who would be in charge of marketing that particular sport with the supervisor overseeing all of the students.

I was a Director of Marketing for Women’s Basketball and along with my co-director Taylor, we handled all of the marketing for our sport (planning promotions, creating flyers, organizing staff, managing and executing on game day, etc.). I learned a lot about working within a collegiate athletics department and how important communication is for not only marketing but all the departments in order to work together.

For our final game of the year we implemented a new theme promotion in an attempt to create a new tradition and bring fans to the event. We hosted a “Silent Night” game (modeled after Taylor University) for Senior Night and it was a great success. The department still utilizes the theme and we set new student attendance records for Women’s Basketball as well as set a season high for overall attendance.

This internship program at UNH is such a great opportunity and I would recommend that more universities adopt it to offer their students greater opportunity to gain valuable experience in the field as well as network within the profession. This was just one of the many opportunities I was able to take advantage of at the University of New Hampshire, but this experience really helped influence my decision to work towards a career in sports.

Alumni SportStory: Taylor Kielpinski-Rogers – UConn, the Boston Celtics and the Super Bowl

Alumni SportStory: Taylor Kielpinski-Rogers – UConn, the Boston Celtics and the Super Bowl

Taylor Kielpinski-Rogers (2012)

As a part of a continuing series, we turn the spotlight on members of the UConn Sport Management Program (SMP) Alumni Community, focusing on the diversity of experience and breadth of knowledge they have gained within the industry. Designed to help current and future SMP students learn to navigate and understand the real-world intricacies of sport management, we thank SMP alumni for their valuable contributions and insight. Today, the focus is on UConn alumna Taylor Kielpinski-Rogers (Sport Management, 2012), currently working as a Communications Coordinator for the Boston Celtics.

From collegiate athletics, professional teams and league offices, advancing my career has always been a priority for me. I have been fortunate to broaden my experience through unique jobs and internships, and as a current member of one of the NBA’s most iconic franchises, I am incredibly grateful for a role that allows for involvement in both business and basketball operations.

My experiences have also led me to many of sports’ most notable events, such as the NCAA Final Four, NFL Draft and NBA All-Star. While those experiences elevated my career aspirations in the sport business industry, the opportunity to work on one of the largest sport and entertainment events in the world made an even larger impact.

My main responsibility leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII was assisting with the accreditation process for all media. We accepted applications throughout the season, and after carefully combing through each request, granted more than 5,000 credentials to credible outlets.

Game week featured many memorable moments, including working at NFL Honors. The night before the Super Bowl, the NFL celebrates its best players and plays from throughout the season with a star-studded awards show. As a public relations assistant, I was tasked with escorting current and former players on the red carpet pre-event, as well as accompanying award winners on their interview tours.

At the conclusion of the big game, I reported to the press conference room to announce media availabilities for the Head Coaches, General Managers and various players from each team.

The opportunity to work at Super Bowl XLVIII was one of many highlights of my career thus far and an experience I will always remember. I am thankful to the Boston Celtics, as well as the NFL Communications department, for allowing me to travel to Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX to serve as a public relations assistant this year as well. Working at the NFL provided me with a chance to gain a deeper understanding of league operations while enhancing my professional background. Most importantly, my time there taught me the value of stepping outside my comfort zone.

Don’t Miss It! ESPN’s Jemele Hill presented by the UConn Sport Business Association

Don’t Miss It! ESPN’s Jemele Hill speaks with UConn students on Tuesday, 22 September

Organized by the UConn Sport Business Association, on Tuesday, September 22 at 6pm in Laurel Hall 102, UConn Sport Management students will have the opportunity to meet and hear directly from Jemele Hill about her experiences as a national columnist and ESPN presenter.

Check out the SBA’s introductory video for a snapshot of Jamele.

Courtesy of ESPN Media Zone:
Jemele is a co-host for His & Hers, formerly Numbers Never Lie, with Michael Smith. The show airs weekdays at noon ET on ESPN2.

Hill and Smith also co-host an ESPN Audio podcast His & Hers with Michael Smith and Jemele Hill.

Hill joined ESPN in November 2006 as a national columnist on who also makes regular appearances on television, including SportsCenter, ESPN First Take, Jim Rome is Burning, and Outside the Lines.

Before joining ESPN, Hill worked as a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 2005 – 2006. From 1999 – 2005, she served as a sports writer with the Detroit Free Press covering Michigan State football and basketball. Hill began her career in 1997 as a general assignment sports writer for the Raleigh News & Observer.

In 2007, Hill won the first annual McKenzie Cup, which is given in tribute to groundbreaking sports editor Van McKenzie, at the annual Poynter Media Summit. She also received an honorable mention in the 2007 edition of Best American Sports Writing. In 1998, Hill won first place in sports feature writing at the North Carolina Press Association. Hill is also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.

A native of Detroit, Hill attended Michigan State University and graduated in 1997 with a degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish.

Hand in Glove: UConn Surgeon Brings Healing Hands to Boxing

Dr. Cato Laurencin is extensively involved in mentoring underrepresented students and young doctors. Here he addresses participants in the CICATS Young Innovative Investigator Program. (UConn Health Photo)

Hand in Glove: UConn Surgeon Brings Healing Hands to Boxing

Courtesy of UConn Today, written by Kristen Cole

After famed boxer Mike Tyson defeated Buster Mathis in the third round of a 1995 bout, the former heavyweight champion of the world waited for the referee to call the match, then hugged his contender.

Just a few feet away, Tyson’s ringside doctor witnessed this simple gesture between the two men, who moments before had vied for the heavyweight title by delivering each other blows.

That doctor was Cato Laurencin, now University Professor, Albert and Wilda Dusen Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, and director of the Institute for Regenerative Engineering at UConn.

Laurencin has worked as a ringside doctor for the past two decades. In August, he traveled to Venezuela as the physician for the USA Boxing Elite Men’s National Team for the American Boxing Confederation Championships.

“I’ve always loved the sport and the personalities,” he says. “Boxing teaches sportsmanship – the lessons for life are incredible.”

For Laurencin, who uses his hands for healing, his interest in a sport that uses hands for fighting has many motivations, one of them being the camaraderie that exists in much of professional boxing and in amateur boxing.

“In the amateur ranks,” he says, “the first thing boxers often do at the end of a fight is hug each other, then go to each corner and give thanks to their coaches, then the referee.”

Boxing, he notes, has a positive influence on young people. Those participating in the sport are encouraged to stay in shape and stay away from drugs and alcohol. The rigor of training helps instill in them a positive work ethic.

“Boxing could be a savior to folks in the inner city,” he says.

Laurencin volunteers as a doctor for amateur boxers as well as professional ones, facilitating a sport that provides direction for young athletes. At UConn Health, he provides direction for students and young doctors. He is extensively involved in mentoring underrepresented students, demonstrating a dedication that earned him a Presidential Award for Excellence from President Barack Obama.

A Black man who earned degrees from Princeton, MIT, and Harvard Medical School, and whose curriculum vitae includes nine single-spaced pages of awards, Laurencin is undeniably a role model.

His road to medicine began in his family’s row house in North Philadelphia, where his mother operated a clinical practice and research laboratory out of the first floor.

He refers to himself as a “surgeon-scientist” – pursuing both the clinical work that allows him to interact one-on-one with families, and performing the cutting-edge research that recently led to his receipt of the prestigious National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award. Just a few years ago, National Geographic hailed Laurencin’s research into the regeneration of ACL tears – one of the most common knee injuries – among the “Scientific Discoveries of the World.”

Like his role at the operating table, being ringside doctor is a post that comes with a lot of responsibility. Laurencin has the authority to determine whether an injured fighter can continue a bout – in essence, whether to stop the fight.

“My role is to ensure the safety of the boxer,” he says. “That’s why I’m there.”

Alumni Focus: Allison Cantor – ESPN Legal Department

Alumni Focus: Allison Cantor – ESPN Legal Department


As a part of a new series, we turn the spotlight on members of the UConn Sport Management Program (SMP) Alumni Community, focusing on the diversity of experience and breadth of knowledge they have gained within the industry. Designed to help current and future SMP students learn to navigate and understand the real-world intricacies of sport management, we thank SMP alumni for their valuable contributions and insight. Today, the focus is on UConn alumna Allison Cantor (B.A. in Political Science, 2004, J.D. in Law, 2010), who works in the legal department of ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, CT.

Allison Cantor

“I love the fact that here’s no such thing as a ‘typical day’ when working within the legal department at ESPN,” said UConn alumna Allison Cantor during a recent visit to UConn’s campus to speak to Dr. Joseph Cooper’s Sport Marketing class. “One day it’s cable and satellite affiliate contracts, and the next it’s a consumer product licensing deal,” she continued, “I learn something new every day and get to work with all sorts of different people through a broad array of projects.”

February was a very good month for sport management students interested in an insider’s view of legal work at one of the world’s leading sport and entertainment broadcasters around the world. Allison has made several trips back to Storrs throughout the month to share her insights and experiences from her career at ESPN, most recently at the “Career Night in Sports”, hosted at the UConn Alumni center on February 26.

What key skill does she highlight to current students looking to break into the industry? Networking. It is a skill that can take time to develop and requires practice – so she encourages students should be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to network when they can. To Allison, networking was a skill that was as important during her role as the UConn women’s basketball team manager as it was when she was completing her law degree… and it continues to be extremely valuable today in her job at ESPN.

Sport Administration Focus – Debbie Corum


Sport Administration Focus – Debbie Corum

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 12.02.07 PMThe UConn Sport Business Association was recently treated to a speaking engagement with Debbie Corum, UConn’s Senior Associate Director of Athletics/Sport Administration and Senior Woman Administrator.

With more than 20 years of experience in the administration of intercollegiate athletics, Corum told a myriad of stories of the challenges she faced, successes she achieved, and shared some insider’s tips on how the students might break in to the sport industry.

In her role at UConn, Corum serves as the sports administrator for women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, field hockey and golf. She serves as chair of the Sports Administrators Group and responsible for gender equity, athletic training, strength and conditioning, sports performance and strategic planning.

Corum’s career in the industry also had highlights as the Associate Commissioner of Championships at the SEC – developing promotional plans, coordinating television schedules and managing event staff – and working as the Assistant Athletic Director of Intercollegiate Sports at Stanford, where she was the Tournament Director for NCAA and conference events that were held on campus.

But how did she start? After the former athlete earned her bachelor of science degree from Vanderbilt in psychology and education, she had trouble finding work in education – so she took an entry-level job as a receptionist at the SEC. She performed her job so well, in six months she was promoted. Six months later she was promoted again. Six months after that… promoted yet again.

Her top three recommendations to students?

1 – “Do whatever you can to expose yourself to sports, particularly volunteering whenever the opportunity presents itself.”
2 – “When you get that foot in the door, do every job you have to the best of your abilities and you will get noticed.”
3 – “Be careful of whose hands you step on as you climb the ladder. Everybody falls at one point or another, but how far you fall depends on how many hands are there to catch you.”

Wise suggestions, indeed!

Alumni Focus: UConn to ESPN – Three Alumni Pay It Forward

Alumni Focus: UConn to ESPN – Three Alumni Pay It Forward


As a part of a new series, we turn the spotlight on members of the UConn Sport Management Program (SMP) Alumni Community, focusing on the diversity of experience and breadth of knowledge they have gained within the industry. Designed to help current and future SMP students learn to navigate and understand the real-world intricacies of sport management, we thank SMP alumni for their valuable contributions and insight. This week, we highlight three UConn alumni currently working at ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, CT who came back to Storrs to speak to students about their experiences in the sport industry: Allison Cantor (B.A. in Political Science, 2004, J.D. in Law, 2010), Brent Colborne (B.S. in Business Administration, a Major in Business Management, Minor in Sport Management, 2005) and Leigh Michaud (B.A. in Sociology, 2009, M.S. in Sport Management, 2012).

ESPN’s tagline says it all: “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” – and for any sport management student, it would be a dream come true to be able to work there. For Allison Cantor, Brent Colborne and Leigh Michaud, that dream is a daily reality and recently the three UConn alumni returned to Storrs to visit Dr. Joseph Cooper’s undergraduate and graduate sport marketing classes to share stories with current Sport Management students about how they made the jump from UConn’s campus to ESPN’s campus in Bristol, CT.

Each plays a unique role in the organization – Allison is a lawyer responsible for licensing and affiliate contract drafting and negotiation, Brent works in programming, negotiating the broadcast deals that put intercollegiate sports on the air, and Leigh holds a key role in planning the logistical and technical operations of ESPN College Football. Despite the different kinds of work they do for ESPN, they all share three important characteristics: a love for sports, a UConn education and a desire to “pay it forward”, to help current UConn students pursue their sporting dreams.

The ESPN crew took turns telling the students about their backgrounds, what they studied at UConn, what challenges they faced entering the sport industry workforce, all about the internships and jobs they held prior to their current positions – and shared their own personal recommendations and strategies for students hoping to break into the sports industry.

For Colborne, visiting Dr. Cooper’s classes was a little like coming full circle – when he was a student, three alumni who worked at ESPN visited one of his classes to share their experiences at the organization. The connections he made in that class inspired him to pursue a job at ESPN – and guess what? The position he holds today is virtually the same as those who visited his class years ago. Now he stands on the other side of the classroom, and the time and insight he, Allison and Leigh share with current students will no doubt give a helping hand to the next generation of UConn students on their way to a career in sports. It is a great illustration of how the UConn experience connects all Huskies – past, present and future.