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J. Sigfrid Edström

(1870—1964)


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(1870–1964)

A Swedish engineer, industrialist, and sport administrator who became the fourth president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As a student in Gothenburg, Edström was a sprinter. After studying in Switzerland, at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology, he became Sweden's most prominent sport administrator, important in the organization of the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, a landmark event in the expansion and modernization of international sporting competition, and its representation. At that event Edström also set in process the formation of the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), becoming its first president, and holding that position until 1946 when he assumed the IOC presidency. The 1912 event's poster mixed the nationalistic with the physical—too explicit and allegedly erotic for some countries, which banned the poster. Edström had headed the Swedish delegation at the 1908 London Games, and carried out that role at the five summer Games from 1920 to 1936. His IOC profile was high right from his initial membership in 1920, to his election to the executive board the following year, and his later appointment to a vice-presidential role.

Controversially, in his capacity as IAAF chief, he disqualified the Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, amidst allegations that the Finn was paid to run. Edström also held back women's participation in Olympic events. During World War II, Edström, from his base in a neutral country, maintained contact with as many IOC members as possible, and convened the first post-war meeting of the executive board, which accepted London's offer to stage a Summer Olympics in 1948; as vice-president, he was made president by acclamation in 1946, the incumbent president, Count de Baillet-Latour, having died in 1942, when Edström assumed the role of acting president. Edström retired in 1952. His contribution to the modern organization and the survival of the Olympics was immense, embracing a principled criticism of the lack of accountability of the founder, Pierre de Coubertin, and a determination to sustain the idea and the ideals of the Olympics during wartime.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.


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