Last week the Olympic Delivery Authority may have been able to proudly declare that construction work was 88% complete, but in one crucial area work has barely started—The Olympic Truce.
The Olympic Truce is a Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly which requires all signatories to “pursue initiatives for peace and reconciliation in the spirit of the ancient Games for the period seven days before the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games until seven days after the end of the Paralympic Games’.
All 193 member states sign it, but no-one has ever implemented it for over twenty-five years. In 1994 the Olympic Truce was adopted as a full resolution of the United Nations General Assembly for the first time. The day before the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway a mortar shell landed in the market square of the besieged former Olympic City of Sarajevo killing 66 and injuring 197 more. The Olympic Truce was invoked to broker a ceasefire in Sarajevo and to allow in much needed humanitarian aid saving many lives.
In October this year the Olympic Truce Resolution will be proposed at the United Nations by the British government as host nation for the forthcoming Games, but as yet there are no specific commitments as to how it will be implemented.
Some in government have called the truce at best “worthless sentiment” and at worst “dangerous appeasement”: I disagree but I can understand that others might see it that way, in which case the only honest position for HMG to take is simply to become the first host nation of the Games to refuse to propose the truce or to sign it. But if they sign it and if they propose it then they should implement it.
In fairness to the present Coalition government they have only been looking at this for a year, the previous government and LOCOG have sat on it for the previous five years. Also in the past few weeks the prime minister has come out and declared that he regards the Olympic Truce as an ‘historic opportunity’ and since that bold statement in the House of Commons on 29 June, 2011 there has been a flurry of activity, but still no hard commitment to show for it.
We are told that implementing the truce will be very difficult because we “only have a year,” but some of us may recall that when it came to implementing other UN resolutions calling for military intervention vast resources and international resolve could be assembled and deployed over a single weekend—so as usual it’s not a question of resources but resolve.
Moreover, if the UK is able to present a bold and imaginative way of implementing the truce when it comes to propose the resolution at the UN General Assembly in October then it can have the moral authority to invite other signatories to do the same. If it doesn’t then the other member states will assume that the resolution will be ‘lip service’ as usual and the ‘historic opportunity’ will have been missed.
The Olympic Truce wasn’t just part of the ancient Olympic Games it was the entire point of the ancient Games. It was a response to a question posed by a king of Greece in 774BC to the Oracle at Delphi: “How can we end the perpetual state of war between the city states of Greece?” he asked. The response came: “The problem is that fighting men and those that deploy them can’t stop fighting because they are full of fear. They are fearful of looking weak to their opponents but even more so they are fearful of looking weak to their supporters. If you want to stop the fighting you need to find a way of allowing the fighting men to lay down their arms without looking weak.” The brilliant answer to the question was the ancient Olympic Games where men could wrestle, race, throw spears without killing each other and competing under common rules together as Olympians.
London represents a unique opportunity for the Olympic Games to rediscover their true purpose in the modern era and to hand on a legacy which is not measured merely in medals won, records broken or land reclaimed but in lives saved and peace restored. That is a surely a legacy worth ‘not fighting’ for.
Michael Bates is currently in Sarajevo 1000 miles into a 3500 miles walk from Olympia, Greece to London to highlight the Olympic Truce. Details of his progress can be found at www.walkfortruce.org