IOC President reiterates role of sport for dialogue and peace

The significant power of sport for promoting peace and social harmony was emphasised on Thursday (3 June 2021) by the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, at the opening of a conference entitled “Can sport diplomacy contribute to building a stronger Europe in the world?”. The event was hosted by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU).  

2018 Winter Olympic Games - Opening Ceremony

Delivering his address live from Olympic House in Lausanne/Switzerland via video to around 500 participants online and on site, President Bach highlighted how sport and diplomacy can complement each other. Both stand for dialogue, for building greater understanding between people, and for the advancement of peace.

“The Olympic Games have throughout their history demonstrated their ability to promote human understanding even where political agreement has proved elusive. The power of the Olympic Games is their universality. They are the only event that brings the entire world together in peaceful competition,” said President Bach. “When the athletes of all the 206 National Olympic Committees and the IOC Refugee Olympic Team finally come together for the postponed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 50 days from now, on 23 July, they will send a powerful message from Tokyo to the world: the message of peace, solidarity and resilience.”

Inclusion, solidarity and tolerance

President Bach, who had just recently addressed the 27 EU Sports Ministers on the same topic, which is the key theme of the Portuguese Presidency in the field of sport, also elaborated on the importance of inclusion to achieve the goal of universality for the Olympic Games. “Our mission compels us to always embrace human diversity, and never to exclude others. The Olympic Games always build bridges. They never erect walls.”

To enable the unifying power of the Olympic Games to unfold, the IOC has to be politically neutral, he emphasised: “Only this principle of political neutrality ensures that the Olympic Games can stand above and beyond the political differences that exist in our world. This is why sport and diplomacy can complement each other so well. Both stand for dialogue, for building greater understanding between people, and for the advancement of peace.”

Sport alone cannot create peace

The President mentioned a number of examples of how sport has opened the door to peace. Over the years, the IOC has mediated between governments, building bridges through sport. This has been the case from Spain to Serbia, Kosovo, Tunisia, Israel, Palestine, Iran, Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, South and North Korea, and many others.

“At the same time, we know very well that sport alone cannot create peace. We cannot prevent conflicts or change the laws of sovereign states – this is the exclusive realm of politics,” said the IOC President. “The Olympic Games cannot address all the political and social challenges in our world which generations of politicians were not able to solve. But they can set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another.”

Bach once again stressed the importance of the IOC’s political neutrality: “We can accomplish our mission only if our political neutrality is respected by politics. If this political neutrality is not respected, then the Olympic Games would become divisive rather than unifying. If this political neutrality is not respected, then it is just not possible for us to bring together the world in peaceful competition.”

In such a case, the Olympic Games and any other sports competition would become instrumentalised to promote the political ends that politics cannot achieve otherwise.

IOC President Bach said: “The most blatant expression of such disrespect are calls for boycotts of sporting events, or boycotting host countries of sporting events. Such kinds of sport boycotts are against the mission of the Olympic Games to build bridges. They destroy the principle of political neutrality and have been proven to achieve nothing at all.”

He went on: “In our interconnected and globalised world, international relations are ever-more complex. Nations interact with each other on multiple levels. Yes, there is competition between nations, and this is healthy. There is competition, for example in the economic realm. In some cases, such competition leads even to confrontation and conflict. In other areas, nations join hands for mutually beneficial outcomes, as in science or research.”

In concluding, President Bach said: “The Olympic Games and sport must always be part of this joining of hands. If sport can play a role in international relations today, it is precisely in supporting and strengthening these areas of cooperation for peace between nations. Sport can show the way of how we can compete against each other while living in peace together.”

For the full text of the IOC President’s address, click here.

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