SBJ/February 27-March 5, 2017/Olympics

IOC looks to acquisition of Olympedia as step toward modernizing Olympic recordkeeping

The International Olympic Committee has purchased Olympedia, an extensive American-built database of Olympic results, as part of a larger effort to modernize the Olympics’ recordkeeping and research capacity.

“We felt this database … is a fantastic starting point for the project on behalf of the Olympic movement,” said Jochen Färber, chief of the Lausanne office of the Olympic Channel. The IOC’s sports data project is “already up and running,” he added.

Olympedia is the creation of Bill Mallon, a past president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, who previously has worked for the IOC and has served in the unofficial role of historian for the U.S. Olympic Committee since 2010. Mallon and his group — OlyMadMen — will work as contractors for the next two Games, in Pyeongchang and Tokyo. Färber said Olympedia is of “huge value” to the IOC, citing the bevy of information it supports. Olympedia has full results of the modern Olympics since 1896, in addition to the winners of the Ancient Olympic Games. “Our data goes back to 776 BCE,” Mallon said.

For the IOC, talks to improve its record and research database go back nearly 15 years, Färber said. The Association of Summer Olympic International Federations first reached out to the IOC several years ago about improving its database.

In the past, the IOC would update its database as it saw fit, which usually came in the months or year leading up to a Games, and during competition. However, once a Games ended, the compilation of data and scores would cease until the next cycle.

The sports data project is operating out of Madrid, overseen by a newly hired project manager. The IOC also is in talks about bringing on one more specialist for the project, perhaps a technical architect. New IOC TOP sponsor Alibaba also has helped with the project.

Färber called the project a “data warehouse,” to which different sources, including athletes and international federations, can contribute. The idea is to have international federations submit their own data for non-Olympic results, while the 16-member OlyMadMen group will remain in charge of Olympic results through Olympedia. Athletes will be allowed to submit corrections to their own personal data, though it is still being worked out if they will be able to do so directly.

The Olympic Channel will be one of the first to benefit from the project, Färber said. “We are already having ideas in mind to transfer data, to make it more user friendly for the audience,” he said. He added that the IOC hopes the new system will be fully implemented by 2020.

Mallon, who played on the PGA Tour for four years in the 1970s before beginning a career as a surgeon, estimated that he’s made five trips to IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, since 2014 to present the project at various levels, including to IOC President Thomas Bach. In May 2016, the two parties reached a handshake agreement.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

John Bauernfeind is a staff writer for SportsBusiness Daily.

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