- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

It may seem a naive and unrealistic scheme: The Olympic Truce project aims at stopping hostilities everywhere in the world during the 16 days of the 2004 Summer Olympics and at later Games.
But it certainly isn't a project anyone will rush to condemn. Therein lies both its strength and its weakness.
A nonprofit entity of the International Olympics Committee, the International Olympic Truce Center based in Athens and Lausanne, Switzerland, has just 23 months and a few days to succeed before the athletic events open in Greece, their original home.
Between now and then, organizers hope to raise the project's profile enough to involve young people in schools around the world as well as garner the cooperation of leading athletic, artistic, political and diplomatic figures.
The Truce Center's director Stavros Lambrinidis, 40, an Athens native and Yale Law School graduate reminds audiences that "If you look at newspaper articles and reports of the time in 1896, when Coubertin said he would organize the Games again, people said that it was a crazy thing. More than 100 years later, it is the biggest event in the world."
Pierre de Coubertin was the French educator who revived the idea of the ancient Olympic Games and was president of the International Olympics Committee from 1896 to 1925.
Educational kits are being prepared with 12 professors from different cultures acting as advisers, Mr. Lambrinidis said in a recent telephone interview from Athens. The kits will be distributed through national Olympic organizations, education ministries and the Internet. Olympic officials are expected to personally deliver kits in some regions of conflict where schools may not exist.
In addition, the Truce Center director expects supporters will invent their own methods for promoting peace.
Since the formation of the International Olympic Truce Foundation and the Center in 2000, the project's first phase has consisted of getting celebrities to join the cause by signing a pledge. Among some 130 who have aligned themselves with the Olympic Truce Statement initiative officially announced during the flame-lighting ceremony for last year's Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City are United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former South African President Nelson Mandela and former President Bill Clinton.
One of the latest is Pope John Paul ll. Speaking to the new Greek ambassador at the Vatican this month, the pontiff said that he hoped "this sporting event can be a joyful manifestation of the membership of all in the same human, fraternal, joint community," and that the Olympic Games can foster a "new experience of fraternity to conquer hatred and bring peoples together."
"Resolutions endorsing the Truce have been sponsored by more Member States than any other resolution in the history of the" U.N., Mr. Annan wrote in a foreword to a booklet prepared by the world body's information center in Athens. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge and Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou are both officials of the Truce Foundation and Center.
Mr. Lambrinidis, who is also a Greek ambassador at large, helped negotiate bilateral agreements with Turkey, a longtime adversary of Greece. Working in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the Washington law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, he specialized in international trade, transactions and arbitration.
"It [the truce] is not an issue I want to oversell," he said.
"The biggest mistake is to give people the impression you have a magic wand to resolve conflicts in the world simply because you are an Olympic movement. Frankly, it is going to be an uphill battle, and it will take a number of programs to unfold before and between Games. But we hope it will become a permanent institution, a permanent instrument in the hands of those in charge of their countries' policies."
There is some precedent for Truce Center's aims, based on limited successes during some far-flung Olympic competitions reaching as far back as 776 B.C.
The early Games and the first Olympic truce ("ekecheiria" Greek for "holding of hands") came about primarily as a way of stopping hostilities between Athens and Sparta, Mr. Lambrinidis takes pleasure in mentioning at every opportunity. The International Olympics Committee was founded in 1894, two years before the first Olympic Games of the modern era took place in Athens.
Because myth and memory are so often intertwined in Greece, many accounts credit the god Apollo for saying the way to stop war was "to have the Games every four years," said Mr. Lambrinidis, speaking to a group of Greek-American journalists in Athens this spring.
"People cannot conceive of something other than sport to get people together," he told a conference during that visit. "You cannot fight and play at the same time."
In ancient times the best athletes were the best soldiers, and having them compete in relatively peaceful ways provided a respite for the warring factions. The pause gave participants and spectators time to travel to and from the site at Olympia.
Olympic truce milestones noted on the Truce Center's Internet site (www.olympictruce.org) include a period during the 1984 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, that allowed an International Olympic Committee delegation to visit war-torn Sarajevo and, during the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, a chance for Mr. Annan to attempt a diplomatic resolution to the Iraq crisis. Also noted as a milestone was the entry into the stadium together of the North and South Korean delegations during the opening ceremony of the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.
To skeptics, Mr. Lambrinidis says: "It is utopian to think the world won't change but will always be that way. I have no idea how many kids would have lived or died if UNICEF had not been able to provide inoculations during that one day in Sarajevo. The truce is a romantic idea, sure, but not for the kids who lived."
To emphasize the importance of seeking peace under an Olympic banner, he points out that the Games have 10 more participating countries than the United Nations, which has nearly 200 members.
"Every country in the world is a member of this. It's a very powerful movement, the most widely recognized. The rings [five interlocking rings of the Olympic symbol] are even more recognized than the Coca-Cola sign, I was surprised to learn."
Signing the pledge is, of course, nonbinding. Participating celebrities are invited to "do as they see fit" to advance the cause, whether they are noted athletes helping organize competitions among young people or performing artists speaking out on behalf of the truce.
"An artist in a concert could say, 'This number is for the truce,'" Mr. Lambrinidis said. "Each person on the same day, the same time around the world, would be declaring the truce one day before the Games. It's impossible to coordinate personalities this way. If some of them do something about it, that will be wonderful."
About the truce's effects on the Games themselves, he feels on firmer ground:
"The Olympics are a unique world event that brings together all people, all colors. They are about much more than building stadiums and selling tickets at big prices. They are even more important today for those who preach hated. I would venture to say the truce could be good for the security of the Games. You can never have too much of that."
The center's full-time staff of three (nine others do public relations part-time) plans to begin an advertising campaign on behalf of the truce idea in regions experiencing conflicts and, starting early next year, reach into big markets like the United States, South Africa and Australia.
The most surprising event to date illustrating the possibilities of peace, he said, was seeing the pope and the Greek patriarch come together in May 2001 for the first time.
"There had not been such a meeting in a thousand years before they issued a common declaration calling on their respective believers to support the truce. We had thought it was going to be extremely unlikely that, after so many years, two religious leaders of that caliber would include the truce in their message. It's quite important to show that it unites not just political factions but religions.
"You would be surprised how many doors the Olympic movement can open, just because it is recognized as being nonpolitical. There are 40 conflict regions in the world. We won't get a truce in 40, but maybe in two or three of them for 2004 and build on that later," Mr. Lambrinidis said.
"I don't care if they want to support it because it looks nice on a resume or helps get extra votes. There could be a thousand reasons. What I care is they actually do it. We will, of course, be very concerned if they try to use it to perpetuate conflict instead. We want to reduce conflict and give peace a chance."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide