On April 22 Lord Michael Bates embarked upon a 3,500-mile walk from Olympia, Greece - birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games - to Westminster, London, to promote awareness of the Olympic Truce.
The purpose of the ancient Olympic Games was to promote peace amongst the warring city-states of Greece, secured through a ‘Sacred Truce’. The idea of the Games was to allow fighting men to lay down their arms without looking weak to their opponents or supporters. They could be macho and wrestle, throw and race to their hearts content, but without killing each other and whilst operating under common rules.
The ancient Games were a remarkable success and were held every four years for almost a thousand years. Violations of the Truce were rare and punished by immediate expulsion from the Games.
When the Olympic Games were reconstituted in 1896, they differed from their ancient counterparts in two crucial ways: first, the Truce was deemed ‘symbolic’ rather than ‘sacred’, and second, competition was between nations rather than as Olympians.
The modern Games have run for 112 years and have had to be cancelled because of war three times, been the subject of mass boycotts on five occasions, and been subject to terrorist attacks twice. The Truce has been violated on virtually every occasion.
In the heady post-Cold War optimism of the early Nineties, an attempt was made to regain the ancient vision of the Games by making the Olympic Truce a Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Every two years, winter and summer Games, the Resolution calls on member states ‘to pursue initiatives for peace and reconciliation in the spirit of the ancient Games’ for the period seven days before until seven days after the Games. Each time the Resolution is proposed by the host nation and all member states sign it.
But no one has ever implemented it.
Over the past 18 months, Lord Bates has been campaigning for the British government to be the first host nation to take the Olympic Truce seriously. This could be achieved by stating how Britain will implement the Truce, when it is proposed to the General Assembly of the UN later this year, and in so doing, encourage all member states to do at least one thing to implement the Truce.
Because he found it hard to persuade the government to engage fully in this process, given all their competing priorities, Lord Bates decided to start a walk from Olympia to Westminster to raise awareness. Now, 1,000 miles in, the campaign is starting to have effect.
On the 29 June the Prime Minister, David Cameron, described the Olympic Truce to the House of Commons as representing an ‘historic opportunity’. No senior politician has ever made such a bold statement about the potential of the Truce to bring about change in the world.
The fact that the statement was uttered by the Prime Minister of the host nation of the next Games, and the proposer of the Truce Resolution to the UN, added to the significance. The countries through which Lord Bates was walking started to take notice. He met with the Prime Ministers of Greece and Albania, both of whom pledged their support, together with some concrete ideas to implement the Truce. Most recently in Kosova, although not a member of the UN or the International Olympic Committee yet, he met with the President who expressed a desire to implement the Truce even though they will not be an official signatory.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now in serious discussions with other government departments and wider stakeholders to see how best the Olympic Truce can be taken seriously and implemented. The walk seems to be working!
For more information on the ‘Walk for Truce’ see: www.walkforTruce.org