The newspapers and news channels are bulging with criticism of the United Nations for ‘failing to halt the bloodshed in Syria.’ They are right to be outraged but the target of that frustration which we all share should be the member states not the institution of the UN.
Consider one small matter—the Olympic Truce which commenced on 27 July and will run through to the end of the Paralympic Games on 9 September. This resolution of the UN General Assembly says that all member states will observe ‘individually and collectively, a truce in the spirit of the ancient Games.’
The resolution was not only signed, but co-sponsored by all 193 member states of the UN General Assembly when it was proposed by the UK and the IOC (International Olympic Commission) in October last year.
Contrast this with the vote on Syria in the UN General Assembly on 3rd August which had 133 votes in favour, 12 against and 31 abstained and you begin to see what an extraordinary achievement the Truce resolution is and yet politicians and journalists are bewailing the unanimous resolution we didn’t get at the UN General Assembly and yet failing to honour the unanimous resolution we did get.
Moreover the Olympic Truce UN resolution was not only supported by all 193 member states of the UN, it has been signed up to by all 205 National Olympic Committees taking part in the Games and all 15,000 athletes are required to sign the Truce Wall before taking part in the Games.
With the eyes of the world on London and Damascus why isn’t the world coming together calling for the Olympic Truce? China was the last nation to propose the Olympic Truce at the UN for the Beijing Summer Games, Russia will be the next nation to propose the Olympic Truce for the Sochi Winter Games.
Why can’t the world come together through the Olympics, for which in ancient times the Truce was not just part of the Games it was the entire point of the Games, and call for a pause in the violence so that civilians can receive much needed humanitarian aid and political negotiations given a chance to restart?
Prime Minister, David Cameron called the Olympic Truce and “historic opportunity” and yet the opportunity is draining away with every shell fired in Syria. National politicians schmoozing around the corporate hospitality suites of the Olympic Park and basking in photo opportunities with national medal winners might do well to recall that the in the ancient Olympic Games there were no city-states represented.
The whole point of the Games was to get athletes and warriors to leave behind their small-minded nationalism and embrace the greater unity of Olympianism. If athletes violated the Sacred Truce or sought to celebrate their narrow city-state identities then they were either expelled or fined.
One man has not forgotten what the ancient Games were about and their potential for peace today and that man is the Secretary General of the United Nations, who reminded us last week:
“The Truce may sound like something from the distant past that has no place in our times,” Mr. Ban said. “It may seem naive to think that hardened fighters and their patrons will listen, but relevant it is, and try we must.” Mr. Ban said he was particularly concerned with the situation in Syria and the escalating violence in the city of Aleppo, and urged the Syrian Government to halt their offensive. “The violence from both sides must stop for the sake of the suffering civilians of Syria,” he said.
There is hope: traditionally in the Modern Olympics the Opening Ceremony all athletes enter the stadium behind their national flags, but at the Closing Ceremony they enter the stadium together as Olympians.
Could this be the moment at which the world comes together in unity to call a halt to all violence and the honouring of the Olympic Truce which we have all “individually and collectively” sworn to observe?
In sport, as in politics and life in general, to try, to give you’re all and yet to fall short is a position of honour but to declare failure without having tried is cowardly and brings dishonour to that great ancient Olympic spirit.
For one moment during the Closing Ceremony could the UN, the IOC, all athletes and national leaders rise above our narrow differences and historical prejudice and strain every sinew to breathe a message of peace into the suffering corners of the world.
If this ‘historic opportunity’ is missed then it will not be the UN which has failed but the nations who have once again failed the UN.
Michael Bates is a campaigner for the Olympic Truce. Last year he walked 3000 miles from Olympia in Greece to London to highlight the Truce. Currently he is in Lebanon seeking to provide humanitarian relief to refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria. www.walkfortruce.org