The International Olympic Committee (IOC) consists of a group of individual members, whose role is to spread the message of Olympism and the tenets of the Olympic Movement. IOC Members are considered by the IOC to be ambassadors not from their nations to the IOC, but from the IOC to their nations. IOC Members are co-opted into these positions by the IOC Session. In reality, until 2000 the IOC President usually proposed members for co-optation and they were virtually rubber stamped by the IOC Session. Until the 1980s there was only one category of membership, as members were co-opted for life. In the 1980s an age limit was instituted, which has varied from 70 to 80, but is currently essentially at 70 (for members elected after 1999), at which time IOC Members are required to step down. A second category was then established for these former members, called Honorary Members. In the 1990s, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch expanded the concept of IOC Membership, and established three further categories of membership:
NOC and IF Presidents only remain IOC Members while they continue to hold that role within their own organizations. Athlete Members are members nominated by the Athletes Commission after each Olympic Games and Olympic Winter Games, and continue in that role on the IOC for eight years. In the late 1990s Samaranch established a sixth category of IOC Membership, that of Honour Members. These were five internationally recognized persons chosen for their prominence but who otherwise had little to do with the Olympic Movement. Four of these five Honour Members have either died or resigned, leaving former United States’ Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as the only remaining Honour Member in 2015. In 2018 IOC President Thomas Bach appointed Youssoupha Ndiaye as the first new Honour Member since the category was instituted by Samaranch.
After the Olympic Bribery Scandal and the work of the IOC 2000 Commission the methods of becoming and continuing in IOC membership were changed. Since 12 December 1999 the IOC Membership has been limited to 115 members, with the following maxima: 1. 70 individual members; 2. 15 athlete members; 3. 15 NOC presidents; and 4. 15 IF presidents.
Further, a Nominating Committee was established which proposes potential members to the IOC Session for final vote. The age limit for membership was set at 70-years-old for those who have been elected after 1999, but members elected between 1967 and 1999 were grandfathered under the old rules, allowing them to stay until they turned 80. Further, individual members were no longer to be elected for life, but would serve for eight years, after which time they could be re-elected. The term of office of members is only unlimited and without an age limit for those elected before 1966. The last IOC member under this rule was João Havelange when he resigned in 2011 aged 95.
Historically, most nations would have only one IOC Member, while some larger nations, or those nations which had hosted an Olympic Games or Olympic Winter Games, would be permitted to have two. In the early years of the IOC this restriction did not hold and some European nations had three or four IOC Members. The IOC 2000 Commission capped this at one individual member per nation, although current IOC Members were grandfathered in, allowing many nations to retain two individual members. Athlete members, NOC president members, and IF president members do not count in this category and there are no restrictions on their national representation. In fact, in 2010, there were five Swiss IOC members. IOC membership is dominated by Europeans, and as of 2015, over 40% of IOC Members were from European nations.