The History of the International Olympic Academy Participants Association

The History of the International Olympic Academy Participants Association

IOAPA SessionThe participants of the 1985 General Session, led by the late Hans van Haute (Belgium) and participants of the 1986 session, coordinated by Ingolfur Hannesson (Iceland) and Yiannis Zoumpoulis (Greece), were the key players in the formation of the IOAPA.

An informal newsletter provided the forum for disseminating information regarding a reunion in 1989. This gathering of 61 former participants, under the auspices of the IOA, formed the inaugural session of the IOA Participants Association.

The IOAPA has since grown to over 800 members from 102 countries. Organized IOA Participant's Sessions are held every two years at the IOA facilities in Olympia.

The International Olympic Academy Participants’ Association

by Rusty Wilson, Ph.D.

"I like to believe in the sturdiness of an enterprise that begins modestly". Pierre de Coubertin

From 19-24 July 1989, 61 former International Olympic Academy delegates met in Olympia to renew friendships and share memories. Five days later, we emerged a part of the Olympic Movement – the International Olympic Academy Alumni Association, known today as the International Olympic Academy Participants Association. The IOAPA has grown from those humble beginnings into an organization, representing countries on every continent in the world, which believes in Olympism and wishes to keep it an active part of its members’ lives.

The seeds of the IOAPA were sewn, innocently enough, at a social evening during the 25th General Session of the IOA. On Monday, 8 July 1985, in the parking lot just outside those doors, four participants were chosen to speak as fast as they could for one minute on a subject of their choice. Hans Van Haute, a Belgian delegate, chose as his topic "The New Olympic Movement," which had more to do with the extracurricular activities at the river, cafes and other locales around Olympia than with Olympism itself.

After that evening, the phrase became the unofficial theme of the session. As groups got together for late night escapades, they would always announce another meeting of "The New Olympic Movement." As time wore on everyone realized that there was more to the phrase than anyone had earlier thought. What the participants were experiencing in "The New Olympic Movement" was Olympism - pure and simple.

At the closing ceremonies of the 25th General Session, Dr. Nikolaos Nissiotis, IOA President, pleased with the creation of "The New Olympic Movement," said, ". . . we shall be separated only by geographical distances but not by the spirit of Olympism which shall keep us all united here, as Olympians, forever."

Inspired by these words, Hans Van Haute created a newsletter, which he distributed at his own expense, for four years to ensure everyone stayed in touch.

Unbeknownst to the 1985 group, IOA participants from 1986 headed by Laurel Brassey Iversen (USA), Ingolfur Hannessonn (ISL) and Yiannis Zoumpoulis (GRE) met with Dr. Nissiotis about a possible reunion. He encouraged the idea and promised the IOA facilities free of charge for an IOA alumni meeting.

In October 1986, Hannessonn began publishing a newsletter for the `86 delegates. After the first two issues, Zoumpoulis informed Hannessonn of the activities of Hans Van Haute and the 1985 group. Ultimately, Van Haute and Hannessonn contacted each other and discussed coordinating their efforts. By this time, the 1987 IOA participants also expressed interest in a reunion. Almost immediately Paul Baldacchino, an `87 delegate from Malta, joined forces with the `85 and `86 groups and the efforts for a reunion gained greater impetus.

In March 1988, Hannessonn and Zoumpoulis met in Athens with, IOC member, Mr. Nikos Filaretos, and then IOA President following the death of Dr. Nissiotis in an automobile accident. Many topics were discussed, among them the final plans for a reunion in 1989. Invaluable support came when Mr. Filaretos sent a formal letter on 27 March 1989 informing all NOCs and NOAs around the world about the upcoming meeting and value of such an endeavour to the Olympic Movement.

Recognizing Hans Van Haute’s dedication to the birth of the IOAPA, there was a strong movement at that first conference to make him the organization’s first president - but Hans refused. Not long after the conference, everyone learned that Hans was suffering from cancer. On 13 June 1991, just weeks before the second alumni conference, news came that Hans had lost his battle with cancer.

In Olympia, the IOAAA faced a proposal by the past Greek IOA participants that the responsibility for the administration of the IOAAA should be handed over to them. Both sides presented proposals, debated issues, and after a few days, a vote was taken. By a wide margin, the IOAAA refused the Greek offer and decided it would continue as it had in the past. When the results were reported all participants, Greek and non-Greek alike, joined forces behind the new IOAAA.

The highlight of the 1995 conference came following the elections when Athanasios Kritsinelis, technical director of the Olympic flame lighting and relay, invited the IOAAA to participate in the Greek leg of the Olympic flame relay for the Games of the XXVI Olympiad, the Centennial Games, in Atlanta in 1996.

Eight months later, 42 IOAAA members traveled to Olympia, at their own expense, to witness one of the most spectacular traditions in the world, the lighting of the Olympic flame. The next day, 31 March 1996, all those in attendance took turns carrying the flame for approximately 12 kilometers over historic Mt. Taigetos in pouring rain. It was an experience of a lifetime. Following their leg on the relay, the delegates regrouped in Athens on April 6th, where they were honored guests of the IOA and the Hellenic Olympic Committee at the Centennial Celebration in the Panathenaic Stadium, of the Games of the I Olympiad.

In 1997, the IOAAA conference was honored with the presence of IOA president Niko Filaretos, the man who had helped the organization from its inception. The meetings were fruitful and beneficial. The 48 delegates, representing 21 countries, voted to officially change the name of the organization to the International Olympic Academy Participants’’ Association to better reflect the membership.

During the summer of 1999, participants met in Olympia to celebrate 10 years of the IOAPA’s relationship with the IOA and our common belief in Olympism. In 10 short years, the association showed an astounding growth rate of over 750%, and the number continues to grow with each IOA session.

Perhaps the most visible expression of the close relationship between the IOA and the IOAPA came in 2007. With Greece ravaged by massive fires the IOAPA, along with organizations, immediately came to the aid of the IOA and Ancient Olympia. Members gave generously of their time to fight the fires and still more gave financially in order to reforest the region. In November of that year, IOAPA members attended re-dedication ceremonies where a memorial tree was planted to commemorate this special relationship between the IOA and IOAPA.

The International Olympic Academy participants’ Association has become what Dr. Nissiotis prophetically predicted at the 1985 IOA Closing Ceremonies: "a miniature replica of the universal family, a family which you will form beyond and over the level of any religious, political and racial discrimination".