UNESCO has played an integral but often overlooked role in international sport. This article, drawing primarily on UNESCO archival material, examines the early history of the organization’s efforts to involve itself in international sport governance. Tracing UNESCO’s relationship with international sport organizations, especially the International Olympic Committee (IOC), this article specifically examines the creation, in 1978, of institutional elements that significantly expanded UNESCO’s capacity for sport governance. However, for political and ideological reasons, UNESCO did not directly challenge the IOC’s authority, illustrating the distinctive ways in which political power is constrained in international sport. More generally, this article expands the historical understanding of international sport governance by looking outside the Olympic movement, complicating the narrative of stable, independent, private governance in international sport, especially in the postwar era.

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