The origins of the IOC Medical Commission lie in the early days of sport doping in the 1960s. In 1960 a Danish cyclist, Knud Enemark Jensen, died during the team time trial. Drugs were implicated, although that was never proven and is controversial. Then in 1967 British cyclist Tommy Simpson died during the Tour de France on the upper slopes of Mont Ventoux. Simpson was found to have been doped significantly and the furor over his death made the IOC realize it had to do something to confront the specter of doping.
The Medical Commission is the oldest permanent IOC Commission, having been officially formed in 1967, although it actually starting as a working group in 1962, after Avery Brundage revealed in a letter that he thought the IOC should pay more attention to doping. The working group was formed, which was led by the New Zealand IOC Member, and physician, Sir Arthur Porritt. As far as is known, the working group did not meet from 1963-66 but did release reports to the IOC Sessions.
At the 66th IOC Session in Tehran, Iran in 1967, the IOC formalized the working group into the IOC Medical Commission. As Porritt had just been elected Governor-General of New Zealand, he could not remain as chairman, so the Belgian IOC Member Prince Alexandre de Merode was chosen as chairman, a role in which he would serve through 2002. The Commission was originally assigned to set up a medical testing service for the 1968 Olympic Games and to study the questions of anti-doping controls. The original members of the Medical Commission were Chairman Prince de Merode; Árpad Csánadi as Vice-Chairman; and Professor Arnold Beckett, Department of Pharmacy, Chelsea College of Science and Technology, London; Dr. Pieter van Dijk, The Hague; Dr. Albert Dirix, Belgium; Dr. Eduardo Hay, Mexico; Giuseppe La Cava, of FIMS (International Federation of Sports Medicine); and Dr. Roger Genin of Grenoble.
At the October 1966 meeting of the IOC Executive Board it had been decided to begin what was then called sex testing, now referred to as gender identification, or gender verification. After the formation of the Medical Commission that task was transferred to the Commission. This was originally performed using a chromosomal test from scrapings of cheek cells, called a Barr body test. In the 1990s that test would be criticized and withdrawn, but further methods to prove gender identity have also met with resistance, notably more recently testing for testosterone levels.
In the 1970s, most of the work of the IOC Medical Commission was devoted to doping, and finding ways to test athletes and prevent their use of performance-enhancing drugs. During that decade the Commission noted its goals as the following:
1) the need for entry forms requiring athletes and NOCs to consent to medical examinations thought necessary in the interests of both his health and future; 2) the development of a list of banned substances as well as sample collection and laboratory testing procedures; 3) the random selection of athletes for anti-doping testing and mandatory sex testing of the three winning female competitors; 4) the obligation of international federations to disseminate information in order to ease implementation; and 5) the provision of medical assistance to any country who does not have adequate staff at either the 1968 Grenoble or Mexico City Games.
However, it was only the second and third goals that became the focus of their work in the early years.
The first mention of the Medical Commission in the Olympic Charter occurs in the 1975 edition, which describes it only as a “Joint and standing commission. To study all medical questions.” The 1976 edition of the Charter gave more details of the Commission, noting that “doping is forbidden,” and that “All Olympic competitors are liable to medical control and examination, in conformity with the rules of the Medical Commission.” It also discusses the problem of sex testing, stating “Competitors in sports restricted to women must comply with the prescribed tests for femininity.” Finally, the 1976 Charter noted that the Medical Commission had the ability to recommend withdrawal of a medal in certain cases – “A medal may be withdrawn by order of the Executive Board on a proposal of the Medical Commission.”
Shortly after the 1980 Olympics, the IOC Medical Commission was re-organized and three sub-commissions were formed. These sub-commissions were focused on 1) doping and biochemistry of sport; 2) biomechanics and physiology of sport; and 3) sports medicine and orthopaedics. After the 1984 Olympics, the Medical Commission added a fourth sub-commission – coordination with NOCs.
The doping and biochemistry of sport sub-commission set up an accreditation system for doping-control laboratories with a view to ensuring that these laboratories had appropriate equipment and staff to perform those analyses correctly. It standardized the procedure for quality laboratory testing and analyses. The sub-commission ensured coordination in scientific research between accredited laboratories, and also developed guidelines for doping control procedures at the Olympic Games. After the institution of WADA in 1999, and recently the International Testing Agency, many of these charges are now handled by those institutions.
The biomechanics and physiology of sport sub-commission performs scientific analyses in different sports to help improve athletes’ techniques and movements. Through this study, biomechanicists and exercise physiologists have produced programs to help minimize accidents and improve training methods.
The sports medicine and orthopaedics sub-commission has been responsible for studying medical problems in the various sports, and also works in close cooperation with the doping and biochemistry of sport sub-commission. It also ensures that gender verification tests at the Olympic Games are conducted correctly.
The coordination with the NOCs sub-commission was created to establish better cooperation between the IOC Medical Commission and the National Olympic Committees. It is supported by Olympic Solidarity, and is responsible for coordinating sports medicine courses among the NOCs.
In the early 1980s the Medical Commission began work alongside the International Olympic Association for Research in Sports Medicine Research (AOIRMS), with the aim of developing scientific research in the sports medicine field and promoting the implementation of its projects, as well as international cooperation in sports medicine. The Association met for the first time in Lausanne on 8 December 1982, chaired by IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the IOC Medical Commission began organizing sports medicine conferences, including the IOC World Congress on Sports Sciences, and eventually began to publish the Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicine, which has now had 19 different volumes published (through 2018), along with a series of handbooks on sports science and medicine, all published in concert with the International Federation of Sports Medicine.
It is apparent that since its inception in 1962 the IOC Medical Commission has greatly expanded, and during the term of IOC President Thomas Bach, its name was changed to the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission.
While initially the IOC described the function of the Medical Commission to be the fight against doping, after the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in November 1999, specific work on doping and doping penalties was ceded to WADA by the Medical Commission. The Medical and Scientific Commission now notes that its mission is to provide a guiding reference for all other sports organizations on matters relating to the protection of the health of athletes. It describes this mission in further detail as:
Supervising the provision of health care and doping control services during the Olympic and Youth Olympic Games; Delivering evidence-based education to athletes and their entourage; Developing and promoting the adoption of ethical standards in sports science and medicine; Exploring the potential of new technologies to optimize athletes’ health, and preventing their potentially damaging effects; and Promotion of health and physical activity for the whole population
The goals of the commission are listed as follows:
Provision of excellent healthcare and doping control at Games to athletes and their entourage; Better informed and educated athletes and entourage leading to effective prevention of injury and illness, better health care and faster recovery; Good medical practice to the highest ethical standards by individuals and organisations responsible for athletes’ health.
The current members (March 2019) of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission are Chairman Prof. Uğur Erdener, Vice-Chairman Dr. Robin E. Mitchell, Béatrice Allen, René Fasel, Cheri Blauwet, Fiona Bull, Jörg Debatin, Vidya Mohamed-Ali, Prof. Yannis P. Pitsiladis, and Patrick Singleton.