The International Amateur Athletic Federation was founded in 1912 by 17 national athletic federations who saw the need for a governing authority, for an athletic program, for standardized technical equipment and world records. For participants, athletics was about enhancing the quality of life; it was something done for love and other noble principles. This permitted a limited group of athletes to achieve high-level performances by virtue of a privileged social and financial situation.
In 1982, the IAAF abandoned the traditional concept of amateurism and in 1985 created trust funds for athletes. The way to high performance was opened to larger groups of extremely talented athletes. Steadily, there has been a change from the so-called amateurs to financially motivated and secure athletes at the highest levels and this development has continued with the introduction of the IAAF Competition Awards in 1997, which offered prize money to successful athletes for the first time in the history of IAAF competitions.
The development of applied sports sciences, improved equipment and new training and competition techniques, brought even more changes to the sport.
This move towards a more professional sport was particularly recognized in 2001, when the IAAF Congress voted unanimously for the organization's name to be changed to the International Association of Athletics Federations.
The IAAF Headquarters now consists of three buildings in Monaco and the Organization employs over seventy full-time multi-national professional staff.
With regard to administration, the number of affiliated federations grew dramatically, from 17 in 1912 to 213 in 2008. All federations are invited to attend the IAAF Congress every two years with elections held during even-numbered Congresses. While once functioning in a way which favored the wealthier, developed nations through its voting system, the IAAF adopted the ultimate democratic system of "one country, one vote" in 1987.
The IAAF now has six Area Group Associations. Council, which administers all IAAF affairs, is assisted by six Committees and eight Commissions in the wide ranging decisions it must make. These are manned by experts in the various fields.
Until the late seventies, athletics had its moment of glory every 4 years, at the Olympic Games.
Today, the official IAAF Competition Programme now includes World Championships, World Junior Championships, World Youth Championships, World Indoor Championships, World Cup, World Cross Country Championships, World Race Walking Cup, World Half Marathon Championships, World Road Relay Championships, the International Golden League/Grand Prix Circuit, the Golden League/Grand Prix Final, the international Cross Country Circuit and the Combined Events Challenge. In addition a variety of major competitions at continental level reflect the expansion of the IAAF program. Fourteen multi-sport and Area Games competitions, including the Olympic Games, are organized on all continents with athletics as the core sport. Added to this are thousands of other national and local area events.
In 2003 the IAAF Congress approved the addition of Mountain Running to the list of disciplines governed by the IAAF.