Promoting world peace through the Olympic spirit

THOUSANDS of years ago, warring countries would stop fighting for a month – and take part instead in the Ancient Olympic Games. 

They observed a truce – a pledge made to the Greek Gods then – to put aside their differences and hatred so that thousands could come together in the name of sport to watch naked men battle for honour and fame at the foot of Mount Olympus. 

That tradition of truce or Ekecheiria runs seven days before and seven days after the Games. 

It was significant then that sports delegates from all over the world gathered at ancient Olympia last month for the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) international forum on Sport for Peace and the Olympic Truce. 

The thrust of the forum was quite simple: How can the modern world use sports as a tool for peace?  

Can sport overcome war, poverty, terrorism, hooliganism, discrimination by race, culture, and gender and even combat cyber crimes? 

Dr Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, was quick to admit that sport cannot impose peace but said: “It might inspire it. Through the Olympic spirit, we can instill brotherhood, respect, fair play, gender equality and even combat doping. 

Rogge, who is also president of the International Olympic Truce Foundation (IOTF), knows the power of sport as a tool for peace.  

Since reviving the ancient concept of truce in 1992, there have been groundbreaking events – at both political and grassroots level – through sporting activities. 

At the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympic Games, North and South Korea marched together under one flag; and arch rivals India and Pakistan held friendly cricket matches to restore their strained relationships. 

In Congo, Liberia, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Somalia, sports activities in partnerships with IOC and United Nations have served as starting points in developing the war-torn and poverty-stricken countries. 

Despite an agonising 14 years of ethnic strife, Burundi came together as one when Venuste Niyongabo won the country's first Olympic gold medal in the 5,000m event at the 1996 Atlanta Games. 

But the delegates agreed that more could be done through sports – especially in teaching the Olympic values of respect, fair play, tolerance and friendship. 

Naturally, there were thumbs up for the IOC’s new grand plan to introduce Youth Olympic Games as a new platform to promote the Olympic Truce and Olympic values to the youths. 

China, once a country that practised a close-door policy, is taking the concept of peace very seriously in its preparation for the next year’s Olympics in Beijing. 

The theme “One world, One dream”; its selection of songs, sculptures; mascot; torch run programme; are all related to peace. In fact, China also plans to host a “Green Olympics” by ensuring “peace” between man and nature. 

Said the Beijing Organising Committee Olympic Games (BOCOG) vice president Yang ShuAn: “Educating the young on peace is important. We will name Olympic Model Schools and teach them the good values. There are exchange programme with other countries to learn and respect each other’s culture through sports. 

“We have created a World Peace Wall and also named one of our roads Peace Avenue. Our dream at the Olympics is to play sports in a harmonious way.” 

South Korea, however, reminded the delegates not to stop at mere shows of symbolism. 

“It was great when South and North Koreans marched under one flag at the Olympic Games. But, sad to say, nothing has changed in term of our relationships. Until now, there have not been any communications,” said the South Korean Olympic Committee secretary general Dr Kim Sang-woo. 

“But we have not given up hope. Sport helped us to make the breakthrough. Our dream is to compete in the Games as a unified team. We will continue with our effort to reach a compromise.” 

Malaysia may not be at war but, like it or not, there is strife. 

Infighting in sports associations, claims of bias in selection, public outcries over multi-million sports complexes and projects – these are but some of the problems that need to be overcome. 

Peace in multi-racial Malaysia is about obeying the rules, honouring fair play and respecting one's race, religion and culture.  

It is about working together with different partners – the National Sports Council (NSC), Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM), Sports Ministry and the National Sports Associations (NSA’s). 

OCM’s president Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja’afar said: “Malaysia has proven to be a peaceful country. And we can continue to utilise sports as a tool for national unity. 

“In area of disputes, we hope our NSA’s will be more proactive in using our arbitration process to find solutions.  

“And we certainly welcome new ideas from the IOC and its members to solve our old problems.” 

We do not have to wait for every four years and the Olympic Games to promote peace through sport.  

We can end all “wars” now and live in peace. All we need is sports and the Olympic spirit. 

*The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war. – Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, the first female President of the United Nations General Assembly. 

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