Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait, head of the Olympic Council of Asia, was voted in as president of the Association of National Olympic Committees at the opening of its general assembly in Moscow.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin later addressed the group, saying sport is a force for good in the world.
Sheikh Ahmad replaces Mario Vazquez Rana, the 79-year-old Mexican media mogul who quit last month after heading ANOC for more than 30 years. ANOC represents the world's 204 national Olympic bodies.
The 50-year-old Kuwaiti, the only candidate, has led the Asian Olympic body since 1991. He sought to strike a note of unity following his election, which he won by a vote of 174 in favor, one against and two abstentions. He said of Vazquez Rana that "our relationship is more than what you are hearing."
Sheikh Ahmad said that among ANOC's priorities under his leadership will be "a vision to help the underdeveloped countries' national Olympic committees."
Vazquez Rana was re-elected to another four-year term as ANOC president in 2010. But with his IOC membership coming to an end this year after he turns 80, opponents had been pushing him to go and allow younger leaders to take over. Had he not resigned, Vazquez Rana would have faced a revolt at the Moscow assembly from delegates seeking his ouster.
Delegates from around the world are attending the assembly, including from Syria.
Syrian participation in the London Olympics has come under scrutiny because of the violence shaking the country, but Syrian Olympic Committee head Mowaffak Joumaa told The Associated Press that the country's athletes are training satisfactorily, many of them outside Syria in countries including Azerbaijan, France and Britain.
Although some critics have objected to the possibility that Syrian officials could attend the games, Joumaa said he had been invited and, "I am going to the Olympic Games."
In his speech to the assembly, Putin praised the Olympic movement for promoting "the principles of honest games and mutual respect."
Amid global financial uncertainties and political tensions, these principles help make the world "more humane, more fair, more just, more open," Putin said.
Putin, who will be inaugurated as president in May after spending four years as prime minister, has made sports a key element of his political and personal appeal in a dozen years as national leader.
He has been a driving force for Russia's re-emergence as an international sports power. His speech to the International Olympic Committee during his previous term as president was seen as decisive in the choice of Sochi to host the 2014 Winter Games. He also supported Russia's successful bid to hold the 2018 World Cup.
The ANOC assembly, which concludes Sunday, will hear short presentations from the five cities bidding for the 2020 Olympics - Madrid, Tokyo, Istanbul, Tokyo and Baku, Azerbaijan. The IOC executive board will decide next month whether to cut the field or keep all five candidates.
The Moscow meeting will also feature an update from Sebastian Coe, head of the organizing committee for the London Olympics, which open in just over 100 days.