Stepping down and stepping out…

Lord Bates

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On April 6 (The UN International Day of Sport for Development & Peace) I will set out on a 2000 mile, five-month, solo-walk from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro. The reason for the walk is twofold; to raise awareness for the 2016 Olympic truce and to raise funds for Unicef’s work with Children in Danger. Today I will be taking the first steps on that journey by stepping down as a Government Minister in the Home Office and taking Leave of Absence from the House of Lords.

To have the opportunity to serve in the House of Lords and in the Government is both an incredible privilege and responsibility. It has not been an easy decision. As a public servant I am accountable and I feel the need to explain my decision.

A couple of points of clarification: First, I am not a natural outdoors type–those who have seen me tucking into a fry up each morning in the Portcullis House cafeteria or at the end of the day in the Bishops’ Bar may question whether I am really up to the task–my sons remind me I am more ‘Beer & Grills’ than Bear Grylls. For this reason I can only walk when I have a clear purpose and the Olympic truce and Unicef will certainly keep me waddling along. Second, I could not do these walks without the dedicated support of my wife, Xuelin who goes ahead to plan the way, stays behind to pay the bills and spends the rest of the time on the telephone helping raise over £200,000 for the charities we support.

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Let me take you back ten years to a quiet corner of a library in Durham University where I was undertaking academic research in the field of ethics and foreign policy. I was scrolling through UN General Assembly resolutions and came across one calling for observance of the 2004 Olympic & Paralympic Games in Greece. I read further and discovered that the resolution had been signed by 190 member states of the UN. I researched further to find examples of where the truce had been implemented and found none.

The Olympic truce I was to discover in the Modern era had become largely symbolic but in Ancient Games it was sacred. The Olympic truce wasn’t just part of the Ancient Olympics it was the entire point of the Ancient Olympics. The Games in 776BC were created in order provide an outlet for the innate male thirst for tribal violence and personal glory by competing in warrior skills without the kills. Athletes, officials and spectators would travel through previous hostile territories to the Temple of Zeus at Olympia in safety because of the truce. When they arrived they would be required to leave outside their national/city state identities and enter the sacred place together as Olympians. I read this and I was hooked by the beauty, nobility and humanity of the ancient Olympic ideal.

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In 2011 I decided to visit the Temple of Zeus in Olympia to pay personal homage to the ideal and then decided to walk back to London, a journey of 3000 miles which took me through thirteen countries in ten months. It was a remarkable experience for what struck me was not how different we were but how similar. You smile and people smile back. You ask directions and people will do their best to help. You ask for accommodation and they ask for 50 euros (if you are lucky).

During the London Olympics & Paralympics I went to Lebanon and saw the unfolding crisis at first hand meeting refugees in the Bekaa Valley and seeing the work which aid organisations like World Vision and Save the Children were doing to bring practical help and support. The experience had a profound impact upon me.

Politics can often be a frustrating profession because you become increasingly exposed to and informed about the problems facing the world and yet feel increasingly powerless to do anything about it. We spend much of time responding to needs for action with words. I returned from Lebanon resolved to swap talking about the problems with walking for those providing solutions to those problems. In 2013 I walked 518 miles from London to London/Derry. In 2014 I walked 1042 miles from London to Berlin. Last year I walked 1057 miles from Beijing to Hangzhou.

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This year I am walking from Buenos Aires which is host city for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games to Rio which is of course host to the 2016 Games. My route will take me through Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. My aims are: to encourage the 180 countries who signed up to the 2016 Olympic truce resolution at the UN General Assembly to do just one thing to implement its precepts.

The resolution calls upon all Member States of the UN to: ‘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.’

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Already I have heard the familiar response that we live in dangerous times and the idea of truce is at best sentimental and at worst dangerous. Fair enough, I respond, so why did you sign it? If you think it is a waste of paper don’t put your country’s name to it. If you do, then do at least something to implement it.

That said, one of the failings of the current discourse in the public square is that everyone is pointing the finger and shouting about what others should do rather than asking what they can do. Life isn’t a spectator sport we are all players on the field. Ghandi called on us all to ‘Be the change we want to see in the world’. I would acknowledge that my walking hasn’t changed the world but it has changed me and to that crucial extent perhaps it has changed the world.

You can follow my walk and support Unicef www.walkfortruce.org or follow on Twitter @bateslord

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7 comments for “Stepping down and stepping out…

  1. tizres
    23/03/2016 at 7:03 pm

    “If you think it is a waste of paper don’t put your country’s name to it. If you do, then do at least something to implement it.”

    An excellent aphorism. I wish you well.

  2. MilesJSD
    23/03/2016 at 9:54 pm

    That’s a splendid insight and illustration into one of this human-world’s vital-currents that one is generally kept-in-the-dark about:
    your private family’s ‘graphic-snapshot of you as “More Beer & Grills” than “Bear Grylls”, is nice;
    and further you tell of the Olympic Truce being originated as a surrounding cease-fire peace-truce, as you say for the furtherance of “skills-without-kills”.
    ————-
    Between the lines, however, a widespread skulking ‘passive-terrorism’ situation lurks evidently invisible to this world’s dominant Constitutions and Intended-Internationally-Co-Constructive Competitions.

    Neither the Specialist Forces of the 190 or so Nations, nor the vast and overwhelming majority of their Peoples, actually build Peace

    but instead, as you again incisively lucidly condense
    “We spend much time responding to needs for action with words”.

    More than one non-fiction writer has also made this clear
    “Reading it is not doing it”;
    and about our Parliament it was rumoured that a certain prominent command-leader (maybe Winston Churchill) believed that once his problem-solving-speech has been applauded in the House, the Problem had (thereby) been solved, and ‘we’ need do no more.

    Yet others have tried to ‘constitute’ peace-building, and its prerequisite “safety-valving”
    e.g. Edward de Bono, in “Six Thinking Hats” designed a section for the “Emotional (red) Hat” whereunder one should let loose whatever emotions one has, and do so safely and without fear of having to justify or “explain oneself”.

    Also, in Cooperative Problem Solving such as Method III (Dr Thomas Gordon) a family can set up a programme whereby every Saturday morning is “open-grumbling time”.

    To my eye, it looks as if no dominantly established Government nor any lesser-powerful Non-Government Body, including the United Nations, many Religions,
    and many smaller and smallest neighbourhood-size bodies,
    has yet included in its Constitution’s Action-Planning and its Objects-and-Rules-of-Association, both the ‘No Lose’ (Method III) Cooperative Needs & Hows Recognition & Cooperative Problem Solving,
    and the several other eminently-available but neglected peace-building Methodologies (e.g. the Six Thinking Hats facility & discipline).

    If it is such that you governors feel “increasingly powerless to do anything about [the world’s problems]”
    how much more so do we “The-People and Voters sovereign-democratic-power” not simply ‘feel’ but actually remain “buried”, “stifled”, “straitjacketed”, helplessly “anaesthetised” …

    It now begins to dawn on one’s overall-strategic mind, that even walks-for-peace are ‘doomed’
    to be not much more effective than those Babel-ing-towers of words
    that we all appear to be wasting our energies upon
    instead of cooperatively-&-emulably moving-into The Necessary Action itself.
    ——————–
    You are one of the few determined leading walkers-for-peace of this world.
    Surely we should wish you “Godspeed”
    and
    “Thank you for doing the best you can;
    we only wish our feet too, could be moving effectivisingly alongside yours”.

  3. Derek forster
    26/03/2016 at 11:17 am

    Go for it Michel and don’t forget to tell them about Jesus. Sunday school teacher.

  4. Hugh Dugan
    28/03/2016 at 5:28 am

    Lord Bates,

    Dear Lord Bates,
    You are the modern day version of the ancient heralds of Ellis, Greece. They spent several months on foot notifying of the Games and appealing for the observance of the Olympic Truce for the safety of those traveling to and from. You did so for the London 2012 Games and now for Rio 2016, as well. In late April the Olympic flame will be reignited and commence its trek from Ancient Olympia to Rio’s Opening Ceremonies set for the fifth of August. In the meantime, may the flame that you carry in your heart keep you energized and safe along the way, and may your message motivate us all. Yours is truly THE Olympic movement, by definition. The Truce Foundation of the USA, which is inspired by the Olympic Truce, wishes you Godspeed as you embark upon another ambitious and worthwhile excursion in support of educating the youth of the world through sport.

  5. 30/03/2016 at 4:15 pm

    Lord Bates,

    Best wishes on your noble quest and arduous journey.
    I admire your dedication to this worthy cause.

  6. Robert Munro
    10/04/2016 at 12:18 pm

    I will be following your progress with great interest. John Glenn,MP told me about your project. I am Paraguayan and grew up in Encarnación, where I still have many friends. I will most certainly tell them to look after you when you get there.

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