History

What is it that we have lost in 3,000 years of civilisation that makes even today the notion that combatants may exercise restraint during a period of truce such a distant dream?

“How can we bring a pause in the endless cycle of war and violence that has so plagued this land?”

Great ideas often begin with the simplest of questions. Yet this is not a plea of this day or this age, but from an elderly Greek king, Iphitos, desperately seeking to leave a legacy of peace for the generations to come. His question echoes down through the ages and resonates in our hearts today.  But what was the answer from the Oracle whose advice the king sought?

She smiled and paused but her answer was not an answer but a statement, she said: “The problem you face is that fighting men want peace for they know too well the price of war, but cannot lay down their arms and seek it for they are gripped by the mortal fear. A fear that to do so would look weak to their opponents and even worse to their supporters at home. They must therefore continue to kill and be killed, to be victorious or be vanquished.”

The king’s heart sank when he heard the Oracle’s reply for he knew it to be true. He turned towards the entrance of the temple. The Oracle of Delphi seeing the king’s heart was sincere came down from her alter and said: “of course…..” the king turned, she continued “if you were to conceive of an event which would allow for men to pause from fighting temporarily without appearing weak or losing face. To see their opponents not as Spartan, Athenian or Corinthian, but as fellow human beings with families and shared hopes, fears and dreams. If you could conceive of such an event, then a pause for a purpose would show that peace was possible?”

The king consulted the wisest in the kingdom about the challenge of the Oracle and the answer that came was to light a flame, which despite its many challenges, remains today. For the answer they found was to create a sporting event – the Olympic Games. The Games would be held in the holiest of places in the Ancient world, the Temple of Zeus, and would consist of competitions, which were every bit as ‘manly’ as war. And yet they competed together as Olympians and their prize was served not in the blood of their opponents, but in the respect of their achievement.

Transcending these Ancient Games, there was declared a Sacred Truce to allow spectators, statesmen, priests, artists, competitors and judges to travel to and from the Games in safety. Sopondorois would be despatched to every corner of the kingdom with messages declaring the start of the Sacred Truce.  And here is the remarkable thing—the truce was observed. The Ancient Games were held every four years for over a thousand years and violations of the truce were extremely rare and resulted in fines of individuals, or in one case, the immediate suspension of a city state from the Games.

The Modern Olympiad conceived of the Games as primarily a sporting competition between nations and the Truce, which had been sacred, became merely symbolic. They have been held for just over one hundred years and have already been cancelled three times because of war, been the subject of mass boycotts on five occasions, terrorist attacks twice and the truce has been violated on virtually every single occasion.  Most recently at the start of the Truce period for the Beijing Games in 2008 Russia invaded Georgia. At the start of Truce period of the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010 NATO-led forces launched the largest ever offensive against the Taliban

What is it that we have lost in 3000 years of civilisation that makes restraint in the conduct of warfare still such a distant dream? Can we rediscover it? I believe we can.

Since 1993 an effort has been made to take the Olympic Truce seriously by making it a Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly requiring all signatories to the Truce to “pursue initiatives for peace and reconciliation in the spirit of the Ancient Games.”  Each Games, summer or winter, a fresh Resolution is proposed to the General Assembly of the United Nations and it is enthusiastically signed by all 193 member states, but sadly there is no record of any member state ever taking any initiative to implement it.  Why is it that implementing UN Resolutions which invoke war make member states look strong and decisive and yet implementing UN resolutions for peace are conceived as making member states look weak?

Truce is not weakness, it is power under control. It is strong. It requires its proponents to take enormous risks. It is courageous. As the words of the Oracle ripple down through the millennia, could it be that what is required is for us to articulate a purpose for the pause to allow our leaders to act without appearing weak. There are so many ways for a pause for a purpose to be realised. If only men and women would apply their minds to ideas for peace with the same resource and ingenuity that they apply to war then we believe the Truce and the Games could again become a power for good across the world.

The Resolution for the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games will be proposed to the United Nations General Assembly in late 2011. The British government as the host nation of the 30th Olympiad will propose it. Could London be the place where our political leaders rediscovered the true meaning of the Olympic Truce? Why not?

That is why I am walking from Olympia, birthplace of the Ancient Olympic Games, to London to highlight the opportunity to bring this Resolution into reality at the London games. What can you do to support this idea? Well you can sign the petition for the London 2012—Olympic Truce; you can ask your political leaders in your country what plans they have to implement the Resolution, or, you can express your support for the Truce in your own life and in your own community.

If a pause is possible then we prove that peace is possible. If we can bring this Resolution into reality we will leave a legacy from this generation, which is not measured in medals won or records broken, but in lives healed and hope restored. What a truly Olympic achievement that would be. It will have been a pause with a purpose. Let’s make it happen.