Articles & Publications
The Olympic Games and Peace
October 6, 2019
In the first place, the notion of peace is a personal, community affair. It is related to a person’s aspiration to live in a spirit of peace through reconciliation and through a disassociation from all forms of violence, disdaining prejudice and injustice, and respecting dignity, rights and the personal freedom of the individual1.
Secondly, the notion of peace is commonly related to the absence of war, with a memorandum of understanding aimed at progress between the sides involved and is a state, institutional and social concern.
In addition, the perception of peace is an individual, subjective state of spiritual and psychological tranquility and calm, unperturbed by anxiety.
All individuals, depending on their socio-ideological and cultural environment as well as their psychological character, impart a qualitive priority to some form of peace. Of course, each of the above forms of peace presupposes a variety of educational and cultural methods of action. We should therefore be asking what forms of peace sport and the Olympic Movement can promote in a complementary way.
One of the oldest, historical references to this subject was the establishment of the Olympic Truce as an agreement between the sovereign cities of the Peloponnese in Ancient Greece2. The institution, established in accordance with the divine command of Apollo, would help the region’s inhabitants to avoid famine and civil war3. The idea and establishment of the Olympic Truce was prophetic as an expedient for the development of progress and spiritual enlightenment. The act, a contractual agreement between cities recorded on the surface of a Discus –the Discus of Iphitos– constituted a source of law in that it prescribed rules which the parties agreed to follow4.
Today, such an agreement would be known as an international memorandum of understanding, directly connected to the staging of the sporting and cultural event of the Olympic Games.
The establishment of the Olympic Truce contributed to the Pan-Peloponnese character of the Games. As Plutarch noted, “The idea of the Olympic Truce was conceived by a gentle person familiar with peace”5. The idea of Truce is also presented as an educational path to peace.
On a practical level, this was a unique opportunity every four years for the representatives or theories to debate amongst themselves. Thus, they declared their option for reconciliation and a wish to distance themselves from all forms of violence, respecting the freedom and dignity of other representatives. Suspension of the death penalty and an amnesty for exiles for the duration of the Olympic Truce in Ancient Greece were further acts promoting human magnanimity.
The Truce, which constituted, during the year, a period of calm and a “peaceful approach”, has become, for all people of good faith, a symbol for seeking a continuing and lasting peace.
Together with the celebration of the Olympic Games, the Truce has been established as an investigative educational procedure for the resolution of differences through dialogue. Dialogue and shared life experiences strengthen personal trust, and trust in general, between representatives. Hence, the institution cultivates mutual respect as well as democratic awareness. For this reason, “The Truce finally becomes a school of peace for the Ancient Greeks”6 and the gymnikoi agones (naked games) a school of democracy7.
This two-way relationship between sport and peace was one of the principal reasons for the revival of the Olympic Games8. The restoration of the Olympic Games
as a constituent element of humanism and enlightenment in Europe encompasses the ideological spirit of classical education, social justice and the construction of a peaceful, global community founded on human dignity without discrimination.
The Olympic Games address the emotions and logic of a person struggling for the ideal balance between the two, which is why “Coubertin believed that the direct results of sports encounters are stronger than the rational substance of political conventions”9. Coubertin himself publicly endorsed the standpoint of pacifists in France, and for this reason, at the founding Congress of the IOC in 1894, appointed as honorary president the pacifist Baron De Coursel, who in turn “characterised the IOC as the foundation of peace”10.
Coubertin maintained that sport contributes to reconciliation between peoples and not their assimilation. In addition, a balance is created between love of motherland and love of humanity11.
International meetings within the Olympic Movement also cultivate mutual respect for common rules and the creation of a peaceful disposition as a means to progress. The idea of reconciliation through sport is related firstly to a revised framework of education about human rights, human dignity and improvement of the individual through effort.
In 1889, Coubertin attended the Peace Congress, organised at the same time as the Paris Exposition, researching the subject of Peace in relation to school education and sport12. In 1935, after 41 years of involvement in the Olympic Movement, he still had difficulty answering the question whether sport is a “peace maker” on the political world map.
He clearly did not wish to give a political response to the question, knowing that at that precise time exclusion of Jews from the Berlin Olympic Games was being debated. Later the same year, he wrote: “To demand that people should love one another is simply childish. To demand that people should respect one another is not utopian, but in order for them to respect one another they must first get to know one another”13.
In relation to the mission of New-Olympism and the significance of the Olympic Games, Coubertin referred to another dimension. Borrowing the words of his spiritual father, Henri Didon: “I never worry when people talk”, Coubertin proclaimed the significance of the Games for the promotion of dialogue and democratic consciousness between citizens the world over.
Elite athletes are called upon to contribute to social peace, since they are prudent, strong and energetic; it is not enough for someone to be a leading athlete, Coubertin wrote, concluding: “These members of the elite must also be knights”14.
According to this assertion, elite athletes indicate the road to surpassing oneself through struggle, effort, persistence and hard work – factors necessary for achieving distinction. They become role models capable of recognising society’s needs and problems more easily in order to contribute to its progress. Athletes as role models convey principles and values to the public, and thus sport acts as a special bridge in the education process.
Today, the Olympic Charter contains important references to the relationship between sports education and peace. As stated in the Olympic Charter: Fundamental Principle 2. “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”15.
Chapter 1.1. “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced in accordance with Olympism and its values”16.
In July 2000, to promote the role of the Olympic Movement, former President of the IOC Juan Antonio Samaranch and Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs George Papandreou inaugurated the International Olympic Truce Centre in Athens, with its symbolic headquarters at the International Olympic Academy in Ancient Olympia. The ambition of the Truce Foundation is to secure, in cooperation with the IOC and the United Nations the cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Olympic Games. After eight years of effort by the then President of the Foundation Juan Antonio Samaranch, leaders from 180 countries signed the United Nations declaration for a truce over the period of the Olympic Games.
The endeavour has borne fruit, since we have specific examples of the Truce being observed, as in Bosnia during the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer. Two years earlier, the Olympic Movement welcomed South Africa into its ranks with a team composed of both black and white athletes. Nelson Mandela’s presence at the Games was a symbolic act of reconciliation after a long struggle for human rights. Sport was an important means for the resolution of conflict and the establishment of peace in South Africa after apartheid.
Another example is that of the two female shooters, Nino Salukvadze of Georgia and Natalia Paderina of Russia, who, at the Beijing Games, after receiving their medals and at a time when their countries were at war, embraced on the podium. That example will long remain in our memories. Once again, they showed the world that youth is longing for peace.
Peace Education as part of Olympic Education
Olympism is an educational philosophy based on the ideas of the modern Olympic Movement, innovative proposals for the educational value of sport and values inspired by the ancient Olympic Games.
The educational philosophy of Olympism rests on three pillars: sport, culture and education for the creation of a better and more peaceful world.
Over recent decades, an ever-increasing emphasis has been placed on the need for closer ties between schools and society. Responding to this need “Olympic education” is an educational process cultivating physical abilities, social skills, moral principles and the development of aesthetic awareness.
An educational process of humanitarian awakening is proposed, through new methodologies and lessons incorporated into or combined with physical education, aimed at developing life skills, moral education, gender equality, protection of the environment, fight against racism, respect for refugees, etc.
In the past, the IOA, in collaboration with the IOC, has organised on its premises educational seminars for children from areas of conflict to aid their psychological rehabilitation. The results have been impressive, since through sports activities the seeds of peace are sown for the future.
In addition, National Olympic Committees such as that of Jordan and of Greece have presented sports programmes through which they are attempting to support the children of war and millions of refugees. For the first time in Rio, refugees from various countries participated as a team in the Olympics. The Olympic Movement thus declared its solidarity with all refugees from around the world.
The Olympic Movement also promotes the idea of peace through other symbolic activities. For people the world over, Picasso’s dove as a symbol of peace is hugely
significant and is now presented every two years at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. The Torch Relay symbolises cooperation between people, generations, friends and countries. Finally, the ever-increasing participation of women in the Olympic Games is indicative of the peaceful cooperation of the sexes
within the Olympic Movement. In Africa, where there are problems between ethnic groups, football and volleyball have constituted a means of reconciliation between warring parties. During the football World Cup, rival combatants “…put down their guns and picked up their radios”, noted Ben Dotsei Malor, Head of the United Nations Public Information Unit, on a mission in Nigeria.
The IOC is continuing its fruitful collaboration with the United Nations, the National Olympic Committees, the IOA and National Olympic Academies, which establish educational programmes for the promotion of dialogue between young people from diverse cultural backgrounds, aiming at developing their skills in the resolution of differences and educating teachers in Olympic Truce issues.
In collaboration with other educational organisations, innovative educational ideas and means are being sought for implementing the Olympic Truce in communities, since sport encourages social harmony (inclusion), reforms and the strengthening of social cohesion. The United Nations are aiming to collaborate with the IOC in breaking down social barriers through Olympic education programmes which address poverty, child mortality, the fight against AIDS, gender equality, environmental sustainability, etc.
Our educational proposal includes the following educational model which is based on the cultivation of human virtues for the creation of a better society:
Α. The concept of competition, through which young people express their will to excel by complying with the rules of fair play while developing physical abilities and skills.
Β. The concept of social peace and progress as a primary element in thedevelopment of young peoples’ inter-communal skills. Role models and example are the constant in the learning process, personal improvement and the path to young people’s self-fulfillment over the course of their lives.
C. The concept of Truce, through education based on principles and values that aim at social cohesion and the adoption of moral attitudes.
D. The concept of eurythmy through development of aesthetic creativity as an element of intellectual judgement, and the capacity to be aware of and understand notions, structures, symmetry, harmony, moderation, ideas and ideals.
Ε. The concept of peace, together with the celebration of youth in a multicultural process for the cultivation of cultures, a comparison of values and the reality and understanding of diversity.
Today, organisations at both a national and international level are increasingly acknowledging the significance of sport in efforts to achieve peace and progress.
The fact is of particular significance. Various bodies throughout the world are developing action plans. Such bodies include the International Olympic Truce Centre of the International Olympic Committee, the United Nations, Generations for Peace, Kicking for Peace, Twinned Peace Sports Schools of the Peres Center for Peace in Israel, the Al Quas Organization in Palestine, the Open Fun Football Schools programme and an initiative of the Danish Cross Cultures Project Association, being implemented today in three regions of the Balkans, in the Middle East and in the Caucasus countries. Sport is today a global language. Its rules are easily understood regardless of age, gender, social or cultural background and religious convictions, and this greatly facilitates their work.
1. Nissiotis, N., “The Olympic Movement’s contribution to peace”, 25th Session (Ancient Olympia 4-19 July 1985), IOA, Lausanne , p. 55.
2. Pausanias, Ellados Perihghsis, Books 4, 5, 6, Messhniaka kai Hliaka, Ekdotike Athenon S.A., Athens, 1991, Α, IV, 5.
3. Pausanias, Ellados Perihghsis, op. cit., A, IV, 6.
4. Panagiotopoulos, D. P., Dikaio ton Olympiakon Agonon (The Law of the Olympic Games), Athens-Komotini, 1991, p. 29.
5. Plutarch (2008), Vioi Paralliloi (in Greek), (ed) Zitros, Athens, XX III.
6. Nissiotis, “The Olympic Movement’s contribution to peace”, op. cit., p. 57.
7. Christesen, P., Sport and Democracy in the Ancient and Modern Worlds, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
8. Georgiadis, K., Olympic Revival, Ekdotike Athenon, Athens 2003.
9. Quanz, D., “The Formative Power of the IOC’s Founding: The Birth of a New Peace Movement”, IOA Report of the 34th Session (18 July-2 August 1994, Ancient Olympia), Lausanne, IOC/IOA, 1995, p. 124.
10. Quanz, “The Formative Power of the IOC’s Founding”, op. cit., p. 122.
11. Georgiadis, Revival, op. cit., pp. 93-94.
12. Pierre de Coubertin 1863-1937, Olympism, Selected Writings, N. Müller (Ed.), Lausanne, IOC, 2000, p. 135.
13. Coubertin, Selected Writings, op. cit., p. 583.
14. Coubertin, Selected Writings, op. cit., pp. 581, 269, 275, 553.
15. IOC, Olympic Charter (in force as from 9 October 2018), p. 11.
16. IOC, Olympic Charter (in force as from 9 October 2018), p. 15.
Binder, D., “The Vision of Olympic Education in Schools”, 2nd Joint International Session for Directors of National Olympic Academies, Members and Officials of National Olympic Committees and International Sports Federations, Ancient Olympia, IOA/IOC, 1994, pp. 66-67.
Christesen, P., Kyle, D., A Companion to Sport and Spectacle in Greek and Roman Antiquity, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
Christesen, P., Sport and Democracy in the Ancient and Modern Worlds, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Georgiadis, K., “The educational value of Olympism”, in Olympic values: Respect for diversity, 54th International Session for Young Participants, Athens, IOA/IOC, 2015, pp. 190-196.
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Georgiadis, K., Olympic Revival, Ekdotike Athenon, Athens 2003.
IOC, Olympic Charter (in force as from 9 October 2018).
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Panagiotopoulos, D. P., Dikaio ton Olympiakon Agonon (The Law of the Olympic Games), Athens-Komotini, 1991.
Pausanias, Ellados Perihghsis, Books 4, 5, 6, Messhniaka kai Hliaka, Ekdotike Athenon S.A., Athens, 1991, Α, IV, 5.
Pierre de Coubertin 1863-1937, Olympism, Selected Writings, N. Müller (Ed.), Lausanne, IOC, 2000.
Plutarch, Vioi Paralliloi (in Greek), (ed) Zitros, Athens, 2008, XX III.
Quanz, D., “The Formative Power of the IOC’s Founding: The Birth of a New Peace Movement”, IOA Report of the 34th Session (18 July-2 August 1994, Ancient Olympia), Lausanne, IOC/IOA, 1995, pp. 121-131.
Reid Heather, The Philosophical Athlete, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, North Carolina, 2002.
Segrave, O. J., “Toward a definition of Olympism”, in Girginov V. (ed.) Olympic Studies,Origins and Revival of the Modern Olympic Games, Vol. I, 2015, pp. 191-202.
Solomon, I., Is the closed school dead? Optional education programs and evaluation, Athens, Metaihmio, 2000, pp. 17-27
Weiler, I., “Feats of athlete-heroes in Antiquity: the social and educational value of athletic excellence”, Challenges an Olympic Athlete faces as a Role Model, 58th
International Session for Young Participants (Ancient Olympia, 16-30/6/2018), Athens, IOA, 2019, pp. 78-89.
Articles & Publications
October 6, 2019
Articles & Publications
October 6, 2019