The International Olympic Institute

Stephan Wassong

From the beginning of the 1930s advancing age, financial and family worries limited Pierre de Coubertin’s activities. His gaze increasingly turned to considerations of securing and maintaining his work and the responsible development of the Olympic idea. One of his trusted persons was Carl Diem. The German sport official and co-founder of the German Academy for Physical Education, which was established in Berlin in 1919, belonged to the generation following Coubertin’s that spread the Olympic body of thought through various publications and organizational activities on the national and international level. In 1934 Coubertin proposed to Diem to edit the Olympic Review. Coubertin himself edited this periodical from 1894 till the beginning of the First World War. He did not resume publication after the war.


On 15th March 1937 Diem visited Coubertin in Lausanne when he was ill. Only one day later he submitted a written proposal to the German ´Reichssportführer´ (Hans von Tschammer und Osten) to found an International Olympic Institute (IOI) for the preservation and further research development of the Olympic thought. With the approval of the Ministry of Interior the IOI was founded on 11th March 1938 in Berlin. Diem became its executive director. Already on 31st March 1937 Diem, who was never a member of the party of the National Socialists and not accepted by it as a lecturer at the Physical Education Academy of the National Socialist, was discharged from his duties as secretary general of the still existing Berlin Olympic Organizing Committee. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) received the news on the foundation of the IOI during its session in Cairo, which was held from 13th to 18th March 1938. It welcomed this initiative with sympathy. Coubertin could not experience the foundation of the IOI as he passed away on 2nd September 1937 in Geneva.


Of course, the National Socialists utilized the foundation of the IOI in Berlin as it promised a recognition of foreign countries, which they needed for domestic and foreign policy reasons. Deliberated by these political goals, Diem saw in his new task the possibility of spreading the spiritual heritage of Coubertin and of supporting the Olympic Movement properly. The fact that Coubertin had already discussed the foundation initiative of the institute with Diem back in 1937, explains Diem’s thoughts on the academic profile of the institute.


The first and foremost task of Diem was to start editing The Olympic Review. The first issue of the multilingual and quarterly published periodical was ready in April 1938. As an insert, it contained the Bulletin Officiel du Comité Internationale. 24 issues were published till 1944.

1st Edition of the Olympic Review

In an article, which Diem published in the German newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung on 11th April 1938, he described the various responsibilities of the IOI:


“The work in Berlin will begin with the establishment of an Olympic Archive, a documentary centre on world sports organisation. Here it will be possible in the future to find data on the sports associations of all nations participating in the Olympic Games, their leaders and their history, and also on laws relating to physical education, state institutions in this field, various methodical principles etc. A second task is research into Olympic history, both in antiquity and in modern times, and evaluation of the experience to be gained therefrom. It is clearly unnecessary for every Olympic organiser to start his experience from scratch; such experience can be systematically stored in the Institute and made available to future organisers. (…). A third question is the educational aspect of the Games. They should act as an ever recurrent stimulus to a healthy education of the young, and thus keep them far from professional sport. Sensation and theatricality. (…). The task of the institute will be to carry out studies providing documentation on the basis of which the fundamental principles of the Games can be adapted to the development of sport and life, while maintaining its purity.”[1]


Diem addressed a lot of these topics in numerous speeches and publications. As to the latter, one can mention the three volumes of Die Olympische Flamme, which he wrote in 1942.



During the end of the Second World War the IOI was bombed out and valuable archive material was destroyed. In the years following the Second World War consideration to re-open the IOI were initiated by Diem cautiously but without success. Documents which could be saved were transported for its further use to Lausanne.



[1] Diem, Carl:The International Olympic Institute in Berlin. In: Carl-Diem-Institute: Carl Diem. The Olympic Idea. Discourses and Essays. Schorndorf 1970, 34-35.