“The Olympic Games of hope, solidarity and peace”: How Tokyo 2020 helped bring the world together

21 Sep 2021
IOC News Tokyo 2020

As the world celebrates the International Day of Peace on 21 September, we look back at the moments that brought the world together during Tokyo 2020 through the unifying power of the Olympic Games.

Tokyo 2020 Opening ceremony 2021 GettyImages

As a spectacular drone show lit up the sky forming a globe during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the familiar refrain of John Lennon’s Imagine rang through the city’s Olympic Stadium.

“Imagine all the people, living life in peace.”

Athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees and the Refugee Olympic Team watched on with great emotion, as the moving performance by global artists Angélique Kidjo, Alejandro Sanz, John Legend, Keith Urban and the Suginami Children’s Choir perfectly encapsulated the unifying power of the Olympic Games.

“This song reflects the values the Olympic Games stand for,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “It is a call for peace and brotherhood, for unity and solidarity.”

And for the next 16 days, the athletes of the world truly embodied those values.

Many moments stood out. Such as when a tearful Okamoto Misugu (JPN) was held aloft by her fellow skateboarders after falling in the women’s park final. When Isaiah Jewett (USA) and Nijel Amos (BOT) both tripped during the men’s 800m semi-final and then helped each other to their feet so they could finish the race together. When a shocked Tatjana Schoenmaker was embraced by her rivals after the South African swimmer set a new 200m breaststroke world record. When the 29 members of the Refugee Olympic Team competed, sending a message of hope and solidarity to the over 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world. And when friends and competitors Gianmarco Tamberi (ITA) and Mutaz Barshim (QAT) chose to share the gold medal in the men’s high jump after both clearing the same height.

Misugu Okamoto of Team Japan is carried by Poppy Olsen of Team Australia and Bryce Wettstein of Team United States during the Women's Skateboarding Park Finals 2021 GettyImages

These and many other moments that epitomised the Olympic values and the unifying power of the Games did not go unnoticed. In his speech at the Closing Ceremony, President Bach addressed the athletes and praised the spirit in which they competed.

“You were faster, you went higher, you were stronger, because we all stood together – in solidarity,” he said. “You were competing fiercely with each other for Olympic glory. At the same time, you were living peacefully together under one roof in the Olympic Village. This is a powerful message of solidarity and peace. You inspired us with this unifying power of sport.”

Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi / 2021 GettyImages

“Athletes show us that, despite all our differences, it is possible for humankind to live together in peace”

As part of the efforts to mark the International Day of Peace, the UN General Assembly declares 21 September as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace through observing 24 hours of non-violence and ceasefire.

The same is true of the Olympic Games, which is marked by the Olympic Truce, or “Ekecheiria” – a tradition that dates back to the 9th century BC in Ancient Greece as a period during which war and conflict were ceased to allow for safe travel to and from the ancient Olympic Games. Today, the Olympic Truce represents the IOC’s aim to inspire peace through sport, and is honoured during each edition of the Games.

During Tokyo 2020, athletes and officials were encouraged to show their support for the Olympic Truce by signing the Olympic Truce Mural in the Olympic Village.

“It is here where the Olympic spirit comes to life,” said President Bach during the inauguration of the mural. “The athletes show us that, despite all our differences, it is possible for humankind to live together in peace.”

Truce mural Truce Mural - IOC / Jordan Smith

“Faith in the future”

The theme for the 2021 International Day of Peace is “Recovering better for an equitable and sustainable world” which, as the world heals from the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to inspire people to think creatively and collectively about how to help everyone recover better, how to build resilience, and how to transform our world into one that is more equal, more just, equitable, inclusive, sustainable and healthier.

By bringing the world together in peace, the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 proved to be an important step in this recovery, with President Bach declaring that they offered the world “faith in the future” during his speech at the Closing Ceremony.

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