PtG Article 03.10.2009

The secret Olympic Congress in Copenhagen

First the International Olympic Committee (IOC) denied journalists access to the Marriott Hotel in Copenhagen, where the 106 IOC-members stay during their 121st session and 13th Olympic congress. This was on Thursday.

Then more than 1.400 media representatives where parted from the IOC-members by hundreds of police officers and security staff during the election of the host city for the Olympics 2016, which where won by Rio de Janeiro. This was on Friday.

The restrictions on Friday were partly understandable. But even when the first Olympic Congress in 15 years opened on Saturday, and the large majority of the international media had already left Copenhagen, the IOC decided to limit the media access to the members of the IOC and representatives from 33 international sports federations, 205 national Olympic committees and 35 invited sports federations, which are not members of the Olympic family.

On the first day of the Olympic Congress there where around 100 to maximum 200 journalists left in the Bella Congress Center. But for the first time in many years at IOC meetings only 17 journalists with a special license from the IOC where allowed to ask questions to the IOC-members and the delegates in the lobby during lunch and coffee breaks. That has been normal procedure for all accredited journalists at IOC sessions and also at the last Olympic Congress held in Paris in 1994 under the presidency of Juan Antonio Samaranch.

The limited access to the IOC members and the IOC-listing of journalists in A and B groups, where only the first group are able to do their job by asking questions about the discussions and decisions made at the Olympic Congress where not popular among the journalists, even among the 17 journalists with full access.The IOC Communications department, headed by Communications Director Mark Adams, did not provide full information about the procedures, neither before nor during the Congress.

We asked Mark Adams the following questions:

  • Why are journalists not allowed to attend the Congress?
  • Why are journalists not allowed to have full access?
  • Why do journalists not even get the Congress Documentation?
  • Just to make it very clear: I fully understand the extraordinary conditions over the last few days. I am not talking about restrictions during the 2016 decision due to security and other reasons. But I am talking about the freedom of press and the working conditions at the Congress and the following days of the 121st IOC session  

Mr Adams replied within a few minutes. He wrote:"I'd hoped we were providing good conditions - sorry if you didn't feel this was the case. (…) On the access question: The rules were made like that I think when we had 2000 journalists in attendance. I realize that has changed now and I'm working on at least allowing some access. (…) You can appreciate that logistics at such events are always a little fraught!"Within a few hours of discussion some journalists who found their names on a special list were provided with an armwrist to get access to the lobby area. The authors of this article got different access: One from the 3rd to 5th of October (Weinreich) and one only for the 3rd of October (Jørgensen). Other journalists who are Olympic writers and are following IOC events over decades did not get anything at this time. It was more than confusing.At 6.30 pm the daily Press Briefing was open for all journalists - whether wearing an armwrist or not.Mr Adams explained that he has organised “the system I was asked to do”. His boss is the IOC President Jacques Rogge.Mr Adams was grilled by the international media. The briefing had no other topics. Mark Adams promised changes for the following days including the full information on all schedules, speakers, themes and times – which were not given out before.He excused saying that the IOC had expected more journalists at the Congress. He said, 20 to 30 journalists will be given full access at the following days – and much more in the lobby area. But he wasn’t clear about whether every accredited reporter or not will be allowed in the lobby area. He said, the delegates (including IOC members) “want to have a quiet meeting”. He used the expression “sensitive access” for media. It is still unclear if microphones are allowed in that area.To the remark that this is the most secret and closed IOC meeting for many years, Mr Adams replied: “Unfortunately, I can’t give you a historical view.”Gianni Merlo, President of the International Press Sports Association (AIPS) was also attending the press conference and tried to solve the problem. “This is unfair. We are here to talk to IOC members. And we don’t want to be listed as A and B journalists. It's complete nonsense to prevent us access to the delegates.”Alain Lunzenfichter, President of the Olympic Journalists Association, said Friday, that he would take action, if the media wasn’t given access to the Official IOC-hotel after the election of the Olympic host city.So far the IOC Press Commission has not made any remarks about the matter. But after the massive critique from the Congress journalists, they will discuss the topic, Mr Adams stated out, before he concluded:“Thanks, this was the most enjoyable press briefing”.