The Olympic Truce is a tradition originating from Ancient Greece that dates back to 776 BC. A “truce” (Ancient Greek: ékécheiria, meaning “laying down of arms”) was announced before and during the Olympic Games to ensure the host city state (Elis) was not attacked and athletes and spectators could travel safely to the Games and peacefully return to their respective countries.
In 1992, the International Olympic Committee renewed this tradition by calling upon all nations to observe the Truce during the modern Games. The Truce was revived by United Nations Resolution 48/11 of 25 October 1993, as well by the United Nations Millennium Declaration relating to the world peace and security.
In 1996, the Athens Bid Committee committed to reviving the Olympic Truce and promoting it to the world through the 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 cooperation with Greece. The vision was to protect the interests of athletes and sport, and to promote peaceful principles in modern day. Each host city was encouraged to embrace the meaning and spirit of the Olympic Truce in the planning and staging of the Games.
Through this global and symbolic concept, the goal of the Olympic Truce movement is to:
- Mobilize youth for the promotion of the Olympic ideals
- Use sport to establish contacts between communities in conflict
- Offer humanitarian support in countries at war
- Create a window of opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation
- 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games: 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 ongoing wars. A delegation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) visited Sarajevo in 1994 to extend its solidarity to the city that had organized the XIV Olympic Winter Games in 1984.
- 1998 Nagano Winter Games: During a time when tension in the Persian Gulf region was high, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan intervened to seek a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Iraq. In a release from the International Olympic Committee, the Secretary General was quoted, I call upon all nations to observe the Olympic truce.
- 2000 Sydney Summer Games: During the Opening Ceremony, South and North Korean delegations walked in the stadium together, under the same flag. It was the first Olympic Games event where the two divided countries walked side by side.
- 2004 Athens Summer Games: The Olympic Truce was promoted through Olympic Flame Relay events. The UN supported the IOC in asking the nations of the world to stop all wars for 16 days during the Games.
- 2006 Turin Winter Games: During the games, athletes and officials showed support for the Olympic Truce by signing one of the three walls situated in the three Olympic Villages (Turin, Sestriere and Bardonecchia).
- 2010 Vancouver Winter Games: Truce projects were rooted in an open invitation for people to ‘Make Your Peace’ which asked individuals to create everyday peace at home, schools, work, and in the community. Projects included: delivering Olympic Spirit Boxes filled with hockey, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, and basketball equipment to 20 Aboriginal communities in Northern Canada; an Olympic Truce Youth Dialogue with Canada’s Governor General; and an art installation titled “Room to Make your Peace”.
2012 London Summer Games
On 22 April 2011 a Member of the House of Lords – Michael Bates, Baron Bates – began walking over 3000 miles from Olympia to London to highlight the opportunity to bring the Olympic Truce into reality during the 2012 London Summer Games. Walk for Truce, Lord Bates was successful in securing pledges from a number of governments to both sign and implement the Truce, supported on his journey by the British Foreign Office. Lord Bates arrived back in London on February 15, 2012 and continues to lobby for the cause of the Olympic Truce.
The UK promoted the ideals of the Olympic Truce both domestically, and for the first time internationally. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) organised truce activities in the UK including: “Get Set for the Olympic Truce” which encourages young people across the UK to learn about the history of the Olympic Truce, to debate and discuss what the Olympic Truce means to their lives and to undertake an activity to promote peace within their school or community. Materials were promoted to over 20,000 schools registered with Get Set.
Truce Inspire is a ‘truce’ strand of the Inspire programme through which LOCOG specifically looked for projects inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games which use sport or culture to promote conflict resolution, reconciliation and peace. LOCOG approved a number of projects including: a project led by the University of Ulster which uses sport to support conflict resolution across the education sector; a project providing 200 schools with the opportunity to debate the theme of the Olympic Truce at a Model UN conference; and a project which uses sport to bring together young people from London communities affected by gang rivalry. Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival organised by LOCOG and the NGO Peace One Day is delivering a truce strand of the Film Nation Shorts project through which 14- to 25-year-olds are invited to create films focused on the truce theme. LOCOG has also partnered with Peace One Day to deliver a series of concerts as part of the London 2012 Festival.
International activities were led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) which together with partners promoted the ideals of the Olympic Truce internationally under the themes of:
- “Local solutions to local problems: Preventing conflict and building peace requires the involvement of the local communities who are most affected. We are looking for opportunities to work with host governments, communities, faith groups, civil society and the media to build relationships across boundaries.
- Legitimate Politics: Legitimate politics are essential for peace. The most peaceful political systems are accountable, give everybody a voice and are trusted to manage difference and accommodate change. We are seeking to work with Parliamentarians and bodies such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Commonwealth to promote the Truce and encourage public commitments to conflict prevention and peace-building.
- Building a 2012 Truce legacy: Through an active public diplomacy programme we have an opportunity to increase international public interest and involvement in conflict prevention and peace-building and to raise the level of ambition for future Olympic Truces”.
Speaking about the FCO’s work on the Olympic Truce, Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham said
As the Minister with responsibility for Conflict Issues, I am delighted to introduce the FCO’s Olympic Truce activities. Our staff in the UK and Missions across the world will undertake activities and events to promote the ideals of peace and conflict resolution ahead of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. We want to make the most of this historic opportunity and work with other governments, the United Nations, the International Olympic Committee, National Olympic Committees, the International Paralympic Committee, National Paralympic Committees, NGOs and civil society to promote the principles and ideals of the Olympic Truce.
On 28 May 2012 during the visit of Foreign Secretary William Hague to Moscow, the UK and Russian foreign ministries (in recognistion of their countries shared roles as Olympic Hosts in 2012 and 2014) agreed to work together to promote and support the ideals of the Olympic Truce.
On 12 September 2012 FCO Ministers updated Parliament “It was a real honour for the UK to have the responsibility to promote the Olympic truce message. We worked closely on delivering an international response to the Olympic truce, working with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic games, the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Culture Media and Sport”.
“We wanted to show that the UN resolution could be translated into international action. Our diplomatic missions across our network and the FCO in London arranged over 70 events and activities which showed how important the contribution of youth, women and those with disabilities is in promoting peace through sport, culture, education and wider public engagement. While activities took place in every continent, we specifically wanted to bring the Olympic truce to life in conflict affected and fragile countries”.
“The UK is the first games host to deliver this level of international ambition for the Olympic truce. The UN Secretary-General, in the presence of the International Olympic Committee, recognised the UK’s Olympic truce work on the eve of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 games. Now others are seeking to build on our experience. We are currently sharing our experience with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser’s Office on sport and development for peace, as well as with Russia, which will next take stewardship of the Olympic truce in 2013, ahead of the Sochi winter games in 2014. This level of international interest, paired with our continued engagement, will help cement our legacy of encouraging future games hosts to promote the ideals of the Olympic truce in their own ways”.
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.
United Nations support
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 is in support of the Olympic Truce and before each Summer and Winter Olympic Games, adopts a resolution called “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal”. UN Member States are asked to observe the Olympic Truce, and work towards the settlement of international disagreements by peaceful and diplomatic means. The United Kingdom was the first ever nation to get all 193 UN Member states to sign the Olympic Truce resolution for the 2012 Olympic Games.
UN Support is mainly shown through the resolution. It is also shown by the Solemn Appeals for Truce made by the UN Secretary General and the President of the General Assembly shortly before the Olympic and Winter Olympic Games. The lead office within the UN system is The United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace or UNOSDP. The current UN Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace is Wilfried Lemke from Bremen, Germany. UNOSDP is situated at the UN Office at Geneva plus a liaison office at UN HQ in New York.
On 17 October 2011, the international community pledged to observe the Olympic Truce, individually and collectively. For London 2012, the resolution was officially titled “Sport for Peace and Development: Building a Peaceful and Better World through Sport and the Olympic Ideal” and was introduced by LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe. “The Truce helps to show the world that peace is a possibility,” he said Monday in New York City. “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. “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,” he urged. “It gives us something to strive towards outside of the Olympics and the arena of sport.”
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”