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UN Head Calls For Olympic Truce for Tokyo Games

Olympic Truce
The Olympic torch is lit by the power of the sun’s rays. Credit: Waerfelu /CC BY 3.0

As part of the many traditions of the Olympic Games, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all parties which are currently engaging in hostilities throughout the world to observe the traditional Olympic truce, one week before the Tokyo Games commence.

Making his remarks in a video message on Thursday, the Secretary-General urged all those who are now in conflict not only to refrain from all such acts during the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan, which begin in one week, but also to pursue cease-fires and lasting peace after the competitions end.

The Tokyo Olympic Games will be held from July 23 to August 8; the Paralympic Games will follow, with competitions from August 24 to September 5.

Guterres mentioned “the traditional call to silence the guns while the games proceed,” expressing the hope that it can lead to an end to conflicts.

Limited Olympic truce leads to global effort for complete cessation of war

The UN chief added that all the athletes from all around the world have had to overcome “enormous obstacles” just to participate in the Tokyo games after the many months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We need to show the same strength and solidarity in our efforts to bring peace to our world,” Guterres noted.

“Seeking peace and uniting around common goals is even more important this year,” he added, “as we strive to end the pandemic and build a strong, sustainable and inclusive global recovery.”

The concept of an Olympic truce began in ancient Greece not as an entire cessation of hostilities but a partial one — just to allow the free passage of athletes and spectators from city-states to the original Games every four years.

All ancient Greek city-states were separate political entities and they often found themselves in a state of war with each other. But even the age-old tradition of an Olympic truce was broken in times of old, when the Greek city of Elis attacked the neighboring town of Pisa while it was hosting the Festival of Zeus and the Olympic Games, which were dedicated to that Greek god.

The creation of the Olympic truce, or Ekecheiria, or “laying down of arms” is part of the traditional story of the founding of the ancient Olympics. Two warring kings from the area around Olympia, called Iphitos and Cleomenes, joined with the Spartan lawmaker Lycurgus in an agreement to hold the Games and to enforce and publicize a truce to be inlace during the Olympics.

Heralds traveled to Greek city states, inviting citizens to take part

Prior to every Olympiad, heralds from Olympia traveled around ancient Greece inviting participants and spectators to the gala event and announcing the truce that would be in force, enabling them to travel freely between city states.

Contrary to popular belief, however — which even sometimes extends to modern Olympic officials themselves — the Greeks did not stop any ongoing warfare against other city-states during the Games.

More prosaically, they simply forbade any individual or government to interfere with anyone who was traveling to and from the Olympics. Interestingly, there is only one known case of the truce actually being invoked — and that complaint came from Athens, not the base of the Games, Olympia.

This sight misunderstanding which has pervaded modern Olympic sensibilities is party because of the efforts of Pierre, Baron de Coubertin, the French man behind the restoration of the Olympic Games in modern times.

He and his fellow organizers believed strongly that the Games were capable of advancing international understanding world peace. The Olympics themselves have attempted to create greater understanding between peoples and have enjoyed some success — more among athletes and spectators than governments, it must be said.

Appealing for an  Olympic truce, or peace, has become a major part of modern Olympic ideology and tradition.

The United Nations has long lent its support for the Olympic Truce and before each Summer and Winter Olympic Games, it adopts a resolution called “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal”.

Olympic Truce Resolution signed by 193 nations in 2012

UN Member States are asked to observe the Olympic Truce, and work towards the settlement of international disagreements by peaceful and diplomatic means. In a significant moment for the Olympic movement, the United Kingdom was the first nation to persuade all 193 UN member nations to sign the Olympic Truce resolution for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace or UNOSDP, is headed by a Special Adviser, currently Wilfried Lemke from Bremen, Germany. The UNOSDP is located at the UN Office at Geneva, but it has a liaison office at UN headquarters in New York.

In 1992, the International Olympic Committee renewed the tradition of the Olympic truce by calling upon all nations to observe the Truce during the Barcelona Games. That Olympics was usually brought with political tensions after the breakup of the former Soviet Union.

The Truce was revived by United Nations Resolution 48/11 of October 1993, as well by the United Nations Millennium Declaration relating to the world peace and security.

During 1994, the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was allowed to participate in the Games of the XXV Olympiad in Barcelona and the XVII Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer despite the ugly internecine war that raged there.

A delegation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made an official visit to Sarajevo in 1994 to extend its solidarity to the people of the city that had organized the XIV Olympic Winter Games in 1984. Many of the venues used in those Games had been destroyed by bombs and the city was a sad shell of what it had been during those Games, when the ethnic tensions were kept under wraps by the authoritarian government that was in power at the time.

In 1996, the Athens Bid Committee committed to reviving the tradition of the Olympic Truce and promoting it to the world through the beloved Olympic flame relay.

Three years later, the International Olympic Committee announced the establishment of the International Olympic Truce Foundation and the International Olympic Truce Centre in Athens.

Its vision was to not only protect the interests of athletes and sport, but to also promote peaceful principles in the modern world. Each Olympic host city was encouraged to embrace the meaning and spirit of the Olympic Truce in their planning and staging of the Games.

The Olympic Truce foundation has tasked itself with instituting a new type of official Olympic truce that would — unlike the ancient version — actually persuade countries not to wage war whatsoever while the Olympic Games are ongoing.

During the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, when tension in the Persian Gulf region was high, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan made efforts to seek a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Iraq.

North, South Koreans marched together in solidarity in Sydney 2000 Olympics

The International Olympic Committee released a statement by Annan saying “I call upon all nations to observe the Olympic truce.”

In a remarkable moment which truly did make onlookers believe that the Olympic truce could change minds and mend fences, during the 2000 Sydney Summer Games Opening Ceremony, South and North Korean delegations walked into the stadium together, even under the same flag.

This was a sight that few witnessing it will forget, marking the first Olympic Games event in which athletes from the two divided countries walked side by side.

In October of 2011, the international community pledged to observe the Olympic Truce, individually and collectively. As part of the London 2012 Olympic Games, a resolution titled “Sport for Peace and Development: Building a Peaceful and Better World through Sport and the Olympic Ideal” was introduced by LOCOG chairman and gold-medal-winning miler Sir Sebastian Coe.

“The Truce helps to show the world that peace is a possibility,” Coe stated, adding “It shows the power that sport has to inspire unity, mutual understanding, and respect among different types of people.”

Coe exhorted all member states of the UN to respect the ideals of the Truce, saying “Countries should feel an obligation to respect the Truce because it holds true to the idea that we can coexist without the need for discrimination and fighting.

“It gives us something to strive towards outside of the Olympics and the arena of sport”.

The official Olympic Truce logo is a graphic with three elements: a dove, flames, and the Olympic rings. The meaning behind the logo is as follows:

The Olympic Truce is symbolized by the dove of peace with the traditional Olympic flame in the background. In a world that is plagued by wars and animosity, the peace dove symbol represents one of the IOC’s ideals to build a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal.

The Olympic flame has brought warm friendship to all the people of the world through sharing and global togetherness. In the symbol, the flame is made up of colourful effervescent elements, reminiscent of festivities experienced in the celebration of the human spirit.

These elements represent people of all races coming together for the observance of the Truce. Today the Olympic Truce has become an expression of mankind’s desire to build a world based on the rules of fair competition, peace, humanity and reconciliation.

The United Nations website recognizes the truce as “the cornerstone of the Olympic Games in ancient times” and the “longest-lasting peace accord in history.”

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