The Olympic Games and the globalization of sport

  • The Olympic Games and gymnasium civilisation in Greek and Roman worlds
  • The spread of sports and sporting cultures
  • The Olympic system and international sport federations
  • Public sport policies in Switzerland and Europe
  • Sporting diplomacy and soft power
  • International organizations (UN, EU, etc.) and international NGOs

This research theme investigates the roles played by sport, as conceptualized in the West, and by the modern Olympic Games in the process of globalisation of sport. However, the aim is not to write a linear and entirely Western-centric history, as this vast Earth contains many other body exercise and sporting cultures that continue to thrive, resist and spread. This is the case even in today’s Europe with traditional games and even more so in post-colonial societies.

The modern Olympic Games, as by the Sorbonne Congress in 1894, draw upon distant heritages, especially the Ancient olympic  and gymnasium civilisation, the European 16th-century gymnastics and the 19th-century resurrections. Organised under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), they have become a truly planetary phenomenon. Coubertin’s personal decision to establish IOC head office in Lausanne, in 1915, was subsequently emulated by many other international sport federations (ISFs), with the result that Switzerland, and particularly the canton of Vaud, have been the center of the international sport movement since the 1980s.

The globalisation of sport involves much more than organizing and broadcasting major sports events. Other aspects of this process include the spread of sporting practices between continents, the circulation of cultures, languages and fashions linked with to sport, sport as an important economic sector and the development of an international sport law.

In addition, international sport is an outstanding vector for communication that all national governments, whether democratic or authoritarian, have been keen to harness. Hence, the world of sport, which forms a system unto itself, has become an important diplomatic tool. Other international and transnational players, including UN bodies, continental unions and international NGOs, have emerged since the beginning of the 21st century.

The Center for Olympic Studies & the Globalization of Sport (COS&GS) is a research group within the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences and the Institute of Sports Sciences (ISSUL) at UNIL. The Center’s research incorporates input from the other social sciences in order to provide a long-term historical perspective on recreational, sporting and Olympic cultures on all scales, from local to global. Every month, the Center holds an open seminar for students and researchers from UNIL, from other Swiss universities, and from institutions around the world.

  • International Sport Policy Observatory (UNIL/Paris 1)

In January 2016, the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and the University of Lausanne created a formal research partnership in the form of the International Sport Policy Observatory (OIPS). OIPS’s mission is to create the tools needed to implement and evaluate national and international sport policies under mandates signed with major players in the world of sport, including:

  • National and international sport organizations,
  • States and supra-national bodies,
  • Regulators, media, sponsors, etc.


Researchers working on this theme:

Institute of Sports Sciences


  • Nicolas Bancel - Associate professor
  • Emmanuel Bayle - Associate professor
  • Jérôme Berthoud – Doctoral student
  • Herrade Boistelle - SNSF doctoral student
  • Estelle Brülhart - Doctoral student
  • Florence Carpentier - SNSF senior researcher
  • Romain Chasles - Doctoral student
  • Patrick Clastres - Associate professor
  • Claire Nicolas - Doctoral student
  • Fabien Ohl – Full professor
  • Thomas Riot – SNSF senior researcher
  • Lucie Schoch - Reader
  • Quentin Tonnerre - Doctoral student
  • Philippe Vonnard – Associate researcher

Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration

  • Jean-Loup Chappelet – Full professor
  • Aquilina Dawn – Research manager
  • Nicolien van Luijk

Faculty of Arts

  • Sébastien Guex - Full professor
  • Karl Reber - Full professor
  • François Vallotton - Full professor

Major publications on this research theme:

  • Chappelet, J.-L. (2016). Jeux olympiques: raviver la flamme, Lausanne: PPUR (collection savoir suisse).
  • Clastres P. (2015). “Pierre de Coubertin in Front of History. Archives versus Writings”, in Stefan Wassong and Norbert Müller (ed), Pierre de Coubertin and the Future, Kassel, Agon Verlag/Olympische Studien.
  • Clastres P. (2013). « Culture de paix et culture de guerre : Pierre de Coubertin et le Comité international olympique de 1910 à 1920 ». Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains 251, pp. 95-114, 2013.
  • Chappelet, J.-L. & Kübler, B. (2008). The IOC and the Olympic System: the governance of world sport, London: Routledge.
  • Clastres P (2008). Jeux Olympiques. Un siècle de passions, Paris: Les Quatre Chemins.
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