Shaping peace together through sport: IOC emphasises the unifying power of the Olympic Games

Ahead of the International Day of Peace, celebrated around the world this Monday, 21 September, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, has emphasised the power of sport. 

Flag bearers

“Sport contributes to peace by unifying people,” said the IOC President. “The Olympic Games today are the only event in our world which manages to really bring the entire world together. Athletes come to the Olympic Games respecting the same rules, all being equal, without any discrimination.”

“Shaping Peace Together”

“Shaping Peace Together” is the theme chosen to celebrate the International Day of Peace this year. The day also marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (UN).

“The partnership between the UN and the IOC is based on the shared goal of contributing to peace,” said the IOC President. “We are cooperating with the UN on many different issues, and this is possible because we share the same values and we are united in the fight for peace and solidarity. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres once said: ‘If there is a true symbol of peace in the world, it is the Olympic spirit.’”

president IOC
Solidarity at the heart of the COVID-19 crisis recovery

At a time when the world is battling against the COVID-19 pandemic, solidarity and friendship among nations have never been more important.

“This post-coronavirus world will be very different from the one we used to live in,” said Bach. “And I hope that we all have learned from this crisis that we need more solidarity, within societies and among societies. Only in this joint effort can we overcome this crisis and prevent a new crisis. The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which have been postponed to 2021, will send a message of hope, of peace and unity of humanity.

“Solidarity is not just about respecting each other, but also helping each other and being part of a community,” stressed President Bach. “And this is what these athletes and the National Olympic Committees are doing together with the IOC. We are supporting this principle, not only by organising the Olympic Games, but also by distributing 90 per cent of all our revenues to the development of sport worldwide in real Olympic solidarity.”

The unifying power of sport

On the occasion of the International Day of Peace, Bach also recalled his top three moments in history when sport has been a symbol of peace: “There is, first of all, the unified Korean team at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. When the athletes from North and South Korea joined behind the Korean unification flag and marched together into the stadium at the Opening Ceremony, it was an unforgettable and very emotional moment.

“Then, I would like to mention Nelson Mandela. He once said that sport has more power to overcome racial barriers than a government. And he was living this because, at the Rugby World Cup in 1995 in South Africa, he was a wearing the Springbok shirt when presenting the trophy to the winning South African team. This was such a powerful signal to the South African population, to unify and to overcome racial barriers, that it is still in my mind today.”

The creation of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, which competed for the first time at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and which is also due to participate at Tokyo 2020 next year, is also a defining moment for the IOC President: “When I saw this team, marching behind the Olympic flag into the stadium and the way they were received by their fellow athletes and by the public, it still gives me goose bumps today,” Bach said.

United in our diversity – Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 

At the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, the world witnessed the impact of the Olympic spirit on the Korean peninsula. A powerful message of peace and friendship, driven by sport and athletes, was seen at the Opening Ceremony, where teams from the DPRK and the Republic of Korea, separated for decades by a military border, marched side by side.  

Korea Getty Images

Additionally, their women’s ice hockey players competed together as a unified team. 

Inspirational words – 1995 Rugby World Cup

Nelson Mandela said: “Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.” And he proved it. When he appeared at the 1995 Rugby World Cup donning the green and gold Springbok jersey, which had become a symbol of apartheid, Nelson Mandela sent out a strong message of peace and harmony. South Africa won the World Cup that year. François Pienaar still remembers the shivers that ran down his spine as Mandela handed him the trophy. It was a sporting moment that helped begin to build bridges between communities that had long been divided by racism. 

Rugby Getty Images
A message of hope – Refugee Olympic Team

At the United Nations General Assembly in October 2015, confronted with the global refugee crisis that has seen millions of people in the world displaced, IOC President Thomas Bach announced the creation of the Refugee Olympic Team – the first of its kind – to take part in the Olympic Games Rio 2016. 

Ten months on from the announcement, 10 athletes, who originally hailed from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were competing alongside 11,000 fellow athletes in Brazil, sending a message of hope and inclusion to millions of refugees around the world and inspiring the world with the strength of their human spirit. 

This unique project demonstrates the IOC’s commitment to stand with refugees and support them through sport, and it also shows how Olympic Solidarity, through its Refugee Athlete Support Programme, helps refugee athletes not only to train with the aim of qualifying for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, but also to continue their sporting career and build their future. 

In October 2018, with originally two years to go until the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the IOC Session decided that there would be a Refugee Olympic Team for Tokyo 2020. Thanks to scholarships provided by the IOC, 50 promising refugee athletes from 11 countries are training hard in the hope of making it to the Tokyo 2020 Team, whose composition will be announced in 2021.

Refugees IOC

The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly. Two decades later, in 2001, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate the Day as a period of non-violence and cease-fire.

The United Nations invites all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities during the Day, and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace.

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