Philip Barker ©ITG

It is the "the supreme authority and leadership" of a global movement which has more than 200 member nations and has endured world wars, decades of political boycotts, financial scandals and doping.

Today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) celebrates its 125th anniversary as President Thomas Bach cuts the ribbon at their new headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva. 

The IOC was founded after a meeting called by French nobleman Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1894. The great and good gathered at the Sorbonne in Paris and resolved to revive the Olympic Games which had been established in antiquity.

French was established as the official language, which is why announcements at any Olympic event are in both French and English.

Early IOC Sessions were often accompanied by a Congress. These were seen as important academic events with delegates often including distinguished scholars at universities.

The IOC was described as a "gentlemen's club". Coubertin had been greatly impressed by the club system in London where members, invariably men, were not elected but "co-opted". It inspired his recruitment of IOC members. 

With refreshing candour, Coubertin admitted: "I was allowed a free hand in the choice of members for the IOC. Nobody seemed to have noticed that I had chosen almost exclusively absentee members. 

"As their names figured on the long list of honorary members, people were accustomed to seeing their names and readily assumed that they were staunch members always at their tasks. I needed elbow room from the start."

Even today, members are described as "volunteers". They are not delegates from their countries, but rather representatives of the Olympic Movement.

Initially, membership was by personal invitation but now the IOC also has categories for active athletes and officials. Their membership is "linked to a function" with either a National Olympic Committee or International Federation.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin's final resting place is only a short distance from the IOC headquarters ©ITG
Baron Pierre de Coubertin's final resting place is only a short distance from the IOC headquarters ©ITG

In 2019, there are still just more than 100 active IOC members. Most agree that any more would make the organisation too unwieldy, although it means that half the Olympic "family" has no say in who hosts the Games.

Early decisions on Olympic hosts were reached in elegant fashion. The first Games in 1896 were awarded to Athens after a speech by Dimitrios Vikelas, the Greek delegate who lived in Paris. He was elected President.

It was initially intended as a short term appointment, drawn from the country about to stage the Games. Had the rule been in force today, the current IOC President would be Japanese.

When Rome bid for 1908, others stepped aside. Coubertin proclaimed it would be a "sumptuous toga" for Olympism. The eruption of Vesuvius forced the Games' abandonment. London stepped in instead, and although there were controversial moments, the Games were considered a success.

The Olympic reputation was enhanced further by the Stockholm Games in 1912.

The IOC was 20 years old in 1914, but within a few days, the world was at war. Berlin had already been chosen for the 1916 Games and had already built a stadium. Most expected the conflict to end quickly.

In fact, it lasted four years and many Olympians died in the fighting.

By the time the IOC reconvened in 1919, Coubertin had established headquarters in Lausanne.

The IOC would also occupy the Casino Montbenon before establishing more permanent headquarters at Mon Repos.

The 1920 Olympics were awarded to Antwerp. Germany and her allies were not re-admitted until 1928.

Throughout the 1920s, amateur regulations were frequently debated. Many felt athletes should be compensated for loss of earnings or "broken time".

More seriously, the spectre of war returned. Adolf Hitler came to power after Berlin had been awarded the 1936 Games. Previously critical of the Olympic Movement, he seized the opportunity to use it to glorify the Third Reich.

Sophisticated organisation hid a regime in which Jewish athletes were effectively barred. Many feel the Olympic Movement should have taken a stronger line.

The IOC did act decisively when American member Lee Jahncke insisted he "couldn't reconcile sportsmanship with Hitlerism" and called for a Berlin boycott.

IOC minutes record that "the Committee unanimously decided to exclude him". William May Garland, the other American member, abstained but nonetheless expressed his deep disapproval of his colleague's attitude. Avery Brundage, a self-made millionaire and apologist for the German regime, stepped into Jahncke's IOC shoes.

The Games planned for 1940 or 1944 proved impossible because of war. When peace returned, there were tricky waters to negotiate.

Germany and Japan were excluded from the first post-war Olympic Games, but the Cold War threatened peace once again. Over the next few years the IOC faced division in Germany, on the Korean Peninsula and in China.

Since joining the IOC, Brundage had become very influential and in 1952 he became President. He was delighted that East and West Germany marched together in the late 1950s and early 1960s but the Korean and Chinese problems proved harder to solve. There was also South Africa in the apartheid years. As many other African nations became independent, they demanded action but it was not until 1970 that their formal expulsion came. They did not return to the fold until 1992.

Brundage was particularly hostile to the Winter Games in which he saw flagrant breaches of amateurism. Matters came to a head when Austrian skier Karl Schranz was expelled from the Olympic Village before the 1972 Games in Sapporo.

"He had a little black book," said Schranz. "He could afford to get rid of me in 1972 because we were a small nation. I tried to talk to him about the decision but he said 'we do not talk to individuals.'"

It was an episode which for many epitomised Brundage's shortcomings as IOC President.

Casino Montbenon served as IOC HQ in the immediate aftermath of the First World War ©ITG
Casino Montbenon served as IOC HQ in the immediate aftermath of the First World War ©ITG

He stepped down in 1972 aged 83, but not before making an insensitive speech at a memorial service for the Israelis who were killed in a terrorist attack at the Munich Olympic Village.

His successor was Irish peer Lord Killanin, who cut a more conciliatory figure. Yet his tenure was beset by turmoil which threatened the very existence of the Games and affected his own personal health. 

Denver, anointed Winter Olympic hosts for 1976, handed them back after a referendum. The 1964 hosts Innsbruck stood in at short notice.

Preparations for Montreal 1976 were beset by rising costs and strikes. When The Queen opened them, the stadium was still unfinished.

A tour of South Africa by the New Zealand rugby union team also triggered a boycott by African nations who called it an "an eloquent protest" against apartheid.

Political games continued with an impasse between the nationalist Republic of China − Taiwan − and the People's Republic of China.

Killanin tried hard to broker a settlement and by the end of his Presidency, it was at hand. In "Olympic speak" offshore Taiwan was styled as "Chinese Taipei" with a special "Olympic" flag. The communist mainland was the People's Republic of China.

Since 1984 the two have both competed. The delicate name game was threatened with disruption earlier this year, but a vote in Taiwan went with retaining the ''Olympic'' name of Chinese Taipei.

Many hailed the choice of Moscow for the 1980 Games as a grand symbol of détente. In 1979 all seemed to be progressing well. The Soviets opened their national people's Games, known as the Spartakiade, to western nations and NBC set up camp in the Russian capital.

But in late December, Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan. The response from the White House was swift.

"I've sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee, spelling out my own position," said American President Jimmy Carter. 

"That unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan, that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to an alternate site, or multiple sites, or postponed or cancelled."

By chance, the American resort of Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympics that year. At the IOC Session, a highly political speech by US secretary of state Cyrus Vance repeated Carter's demands.

''As these words came down from the rostrum there were a lot of white knuckles gripping the arms of chairs to conceal anger," fumed Killanin later.

The US did not attend Moscow. Other refuseniks included Canada, West Germany and Japan. Of those who went, 18 agreed to use the Olympic flag and anthem. Most striking of all, New Zealand marched under a black flag emblazoned with rings and the silver fern, the emblem of their National Olympic Committee.

At the Opening Ceremony, Killanin talked of those who had "shown their complete independence to travel to compete despite many pressures placed upon them".

At the Closing Ceremony, he asked the world to "unite in peace before the holocaust descends".

The keys to Lausanne were handed to new IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch who had been Spanish ambassador in Moscow.

He had fulfilled a prophesy by former President Brundage who had told him: "One day you will be IOC President".

He was the first since Coubertin to live in Lausanne full-time. There was soon a power battle with IOC director Monique Berlioux, at the time the most powerful woman in the Movement. Berlioux eventually resigned.

Flor Isava Fonseca of Venezuela and Pirjo Haggman of Finland had become the first women to actually join the IOC. It was a gentlemen's club no more, although it took a while for female numbers to increase.

Mon Repos was the IOC headquarters until 1968 and is now used by Olympic Solidarity ©ITG
Mon Repos was the IOC headquarters until 1968 and is now used by Olympic Solidarity ©ITG

Even Samaranch was unable to head-off a Soviet-bloc boycott of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles where Yugoslavia and Romania were the only Eastern Europeans to attend. 

Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was later awarded the Olympic Order. In the years which followed, East Germany's Erich Honecker and Bulgaria's Todor Zhivkov were also honoured in similar fashion. It emphasised the political tightrope which the IOC President was forced to walk.

The 1984 Games attracted 140 nations and even delivered a profit of some $225 million (£177 million/€197 million). It made the Olympics a desirable property at a time when many had predicted their demise. The Olympic Partner programme was now introduced to streamline sponsorship.

Against many forecasts, Seoul 1988 was also a great success. The few absentees included North Korea who had made a late demand to co-host events. Although everyone went through the motions, there was no real hope of success.

For the first time invitations were sent from Lausanne rather than the local Organising Committee. This made it more difficult to refuse without seeming to insult the entire Olympic Movement.

Seoul and Nagoya had been the only two cities to bid for 1988 but 13 cities travelled to Lausanne in 1986 where the 1992 Summer and Winter Games were to be chosen.

There was fierce lobbying and many were uneasy at the largesse on offer. Lavish gifts were offered to members and there were cruises on Lake Geneva alongside a range of other parties. Accusations of pressure were brought to bear.

The warning signs were not heeded. In 1998, senior IOC member Marc Hodler revealed that there had been serious irregularities in Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Games bid. Some IOC members were implicated in receiving money or gifts in kind.

"Make no mistake, there has never been a crisis of this magnitude faced by the IOC and the Olympic Movement," warned Samaranch when the IOC gathered for an Extraordinary Session in 1999. 

"Bidding cities which may have acted improperly are a matter of the past. It is our IOC which is now on trial. The first step we must take is to clean our house. We must root out all forms of inappropriate or unethical behaviour among our membership."

Six were accused of improper conduct and after a secret ballot, all were expelled from the IOC. Others had already resigned.

Reforms included new bidding rules. Athletes became full IOC members for the first time. New ethical guidelines were produced and the World Anti-Doping Agency was established.

Samaranch took his leave after a hugely successful Sydney 2000 Games which did much to restore faith in the Olympic Movement. His successor was surgeon Jacques Rogge of Belgium.

In an echo of Montreal 1976, construction delays put the 2004 Athens Games in jeopardy. Yet although there were some rough edges, Rogge was eventually able to describe them as "dream Games".

His own legacy will be hallmarked by the introduction of the Youth Olympic Games in August 2010. First staged in Singapore, they will also take Olympic competition to African soil for the first time in 2022 when the summer version is held in Senegal.

Chateau de Vidy swathed in protective sheeting during construction of the new IOC home ©ITG
Chateau de Vidy swathed in protective sheeting during construction of the new IOC home ©ITG

Rogge stood down in 2013. A very competitive leadership race was won by Germany's Thomas Bach, the team foil gold medallist in 1976, who thus became the first Olympic champion to lead the Movement.

In the early years of his Presidency he developed his Agenda 2020 which included the launch of an Olympic Channel.

His first Games in charge were Sochi 2014 where there had been remarkable transformation. But in the years that followed came revelations of widespread, and it transpired, officially-sanctioned doping described by IOC doyen Dick Pound as a "flagrant attack on the Olympic Games and on clean athletes by Russia".

Some criticised the IOC for not doing enough to sanction the Russians while others felt they had gone too far.

But the problem of doping remains a major challenge everywhere. Retesting of samples from as far back as 2008 has forced record books to be re-written on a regular basis.

Despite initiatives intended to encourage bidding cities, it has proved impossible to achieve more than a two-horse race for the 2026 Winter Games.

This week though, it will be celebration all the way at the impressive new Olympic House. It "combines symbolism, functionality and sustainability," said Prince Albert of Monaco. Purpose-built, it seems the perfect HQ for the next 125 years. 

Just how the Olympic Movement will develop in that time is another question.