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Georgetown Law Library

Olympics and International Sports Law Research Guide

This guide is for researching the legal aspects of the Olympic Games. General international sports law resources are also included.

Organization & Legal Structure of the Olympic Games

The founding document of the Olympic Movement is the Olympic Charter, which addresses the legal status of the International Olympic Committee, the role of the International Federations and the National Olympic Committees, the World Anti-Doping Code, as well as the Olympic flag, emblems, motto and flame, among other things. The Olympic Charter also states that all disputes that arise in connection with the Olympic Games shall be submitted exclusively to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).


Founded on June 23, 1894 by French educator Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is an international non-governmental organization that is the final authority on the Olympic Movement. The IOC owns the rights to the Olympic symbols, flag, motto and anthem. The Executive Board of the IOC assumes many of the legislative functions of the organization and is responsible for enacting all regulations necessary for the full implementation of the Olympic Charter. The Executive Board is assisted in its administrative function by several commissions, including ethics (including decisions), TV rights and new media, and sport and law.

The individual members of the IOC represent the IOC in their respective countries.  Unlike congressional or parliamentary members, they do not represent the interests of their individual countries to the IOC. There are currently 110 members of the IOC.


Each sport is governed internationally by an International Federation (IF) which is a non-governmental organization responsible for the administration of one or more sports at the international level. For example, the International Skating Union and the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) are examples of IFs. International Federations often set the rules and procedures for international competitions. They are recognized by the IOC and cooperate with it by ensuring that their activities comply with the Olympic Charter and IFs are responsible for the technical control of their sport at the Olympic games. To locate a particular IF, click on the sport at the Olympic website. Athletes and individual sports are also governed by national bodies in their home country. These national bodies are members of their respective international federations as well.

Category International Federations Examples National Association Examples
Summer Olympic Sports Badminton World Federation, Association Internationale de Boxe, Federation Internationale de Gymnastiques Badminton Association of India, Botswana Boxing Association, Japan Gymnastic Association, Swimming Australia
Winter Olympic Sports World Curling Federation, International Ice Hockey Federation, International Ski Association Finnish Curling Association, Ice Hockey Federation of Russia, Federazione Italiana Sport Invernali

There is a category known as Recognized Sports that also have international federations and national associations. According to this list from the Association of IOC Recognized International Sports Federations, there are currently 32 recognized sports, including chess, rugby and bowling. These disciplines are recognized by the IOC, but are not events in the Olympic games. Occasionally, these sports may be added to the Olympic games (such as curling in 1998). Sporting events may also be dropped (such as softball, water skiing, and tug of war) from the games.


Each country that belongs to the International Olympic Committee has in turn its own National Olympic Committee (NOC). These national committees promote the development of their respective national athletes and select which ones will attend the Olympic Games. The NOCs also nominate host cities for selection by the International Olympic Committee. There are currently 205 NOCs organized into five regional associations.

  • ANOCA (Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa)
  • PASO (Pan American Sports Organization)
  • OCA (Olympic Council of Asia)
  • EOC (European Olympic Committees)
  • ONOC (Oceana National Olympic Committees)


The IOC entrusts the organization of the Olympic Games to the NOC of the host country. The local NOC forms an OCOG to accomplish the task of organizing the Olympic Games for a given year. OCOGs must comply with three sources of authority: the Olympic Charter, the contractentered into between the IOC, the NOC of the host country, and the host city, and the instructions from the IOC Executive Board.

The Winter and Summer games alternate every two years. The three OCOGs in current operation are PyeongChang 2018 (Winter games), Tokyo 2020 (Summer games), and Beijing 2022 (Winter games).