Last step of a walk. First day of a truce?
The eyes of the world will be focussed on Rio for the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad on Friday 5 August. Few may have noticed that on Friday 29 July, seven days before, the Olympic truce for the Rio Games came into effect. Even fewer may notice a weary old man, supported by his wife, taking his final steps on a 3025km 115 day solo-walk from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro to honour the truce and raise £250,000 for UNICEF’s work with children in danger.
The Olympic truce is one of those beautiful and compelling ideals that cannot fail to impact those who come into contact with it. The truce is a reminder that in ancient times peace was not just part of the Olympic games it was the entire point of the Games. In the ancient times the truce was sacred being declared by priests from the Temple of Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. Violations of the ancient truce were rare and punished with heavy fines.
For much of the modern era of the Games the Olympic truce has been more symbolic than sacred. That began to change in 1993 when the Olympic truce was first backed by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly for the Lillehammer Winter Games. It was memorably and powerfully invoked by IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch during the Opening Ceremony at Lillehammer in 1994 to call for a ceasefire in Sarajevo. The UN and IOC spoke and a vital humanitarian ceasefire was observed.
On 25 October 2015 the Resolution for the Rio games was proposed. It was backed and co-sponsored by 180 nations. The resolution called ‘take concrete actions at local, national, regional and international levels to promote and strengthen the culture of peace based on the spirit of the Olympic Truce’ and ‘to use sport as a tool to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation in areas of conflict during and beyond the period of the Olympic & Paralympic Games.’
If ever there was a time when we needed Olympian efforts for peace and reconciliation, then it is now. The problem is that often we over-focus on our threats to security and less willing or able to grasp the opportunities for peace. People may say that peace is not possible. I profoundly disagree. It just requires more courage than war to make it happen. It takes more moral strength to reach out a hand than to raise a fist.
That is what sport does—it gives us the inspiration to rise above our narrow cultural differences to embrace our common humanity. That was the ambition of ancient Olympism. That is the ideal embodied in Team Refugee initiative of the International Olympic Committee. It is saying, you may not have a country, but you are still part of humanity and of the Olympic family.
How do you advance these ideals? How do you ensure that more countries not only sign the truce but implement the truce? The modern answer is often that you get angry that others are not doing what they said. You start a social media campaign. You enroll some celebrities and you seek to whip up a Twitter storm to shame politicians into living up to live up to the commitments.
I am a politician. I have tried that but I want to suggest another way. It is a path less travelled by. Rather than pointing out the failings of others why not ask yourself what am I doing to honour the truce that my country has co-sponsored before the UN General Assembly? What opportunities are there for using this incredible sporting occasion of the Olympics & Paralympics to engage, in a spirit of peace and friendship, with parts of our community with which there is perhaps tension or distrust in a spirit of peace and friendship. Ghandi urged us to “Be the change we want to see in the world.” The period of the Olympic truce for Rio 2016 would seem like a great place to start.