The tradition of the Olympic Truce dates back to the early days of the Games, and the reign of Iphitos, King of Elis, who was intent on breaking the incessant cycle of armed conflict that beset Ancient Greece in the ninth century BC.
According to legend, he sought the counsel of the oracle of Delphi, who advised him to found a peaceful sporting competition, which would become none other than the Olympic Games.
Iphitos had the support of fellow monarchs Cleisthenes of Pisa and Lycurgus of Sparta and signed a truce with them known as the "Ekecheira". As a result of the accord, all regional conflict came to an end every four years to allow the Games to take place, the first of them being staged in 776 BC.
Beginning seven days before the Olympic Games got under way and ending seven days after them, the Truce allowed athletes, artists, their families and ordinary pilgrims to travel in total safety in order to participate in or attend the Games and to then return home afterwards.
As the Games neared, the Truce was proclaimed and announced by citizens of Elis, who travelled across Greece to pass on the message.
Samaranch announces the Olympic Truce at Lillehammer 1994
The Olympic Games were revived by Baron Pierre de Coubertin on 23 June 1894 in Paris, with the first Games of the modern era taking place in Athens in April 1896. During the course of the 20th century, the Olympic Games increased in size to become the largest and most widely followed sporting event in the world.
However, it was not until 1992 – nearly a century after the Games' revival – that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to reintroduce the Olympic Truce.
In making a worldwide appeal for it to be observed once more, the IOC negotiated with the United Nations (UN) to allow athletes of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia to participate in the Olympic Summer Games Barcelona 1992 under the Olympic flag.
At its 48th Session, in 1993, the UN General Assembly urged Member States to observe the Olympic Truce at all future Games. Following concerted diplomatic efforts, the Olympic Truce was observed for the first time in the modern era at the Olympic Winter Games Lillehammer 1994.
The Opening Ceremony of those Games saw the then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch deliver a powerful speech to the thousands of spectators assembled at the Lysgårdsbakken Olympic Stadium and to hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide.
Samaranch reminded his audience that the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, which had hosted the Olympic Winter Games just ten years earlier, was in the midst of a deadly siege. "Our message is stronger than ever," he said. "Please stop the fighting. Please stop the killing. Please drop your guns." It was a heartfelt appeal that resounded far beyond the small Norwegian city.
A UN resolution entitled "Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal" was presented to the General Assembly and has been adopted prior to every Olympic Games since Lillehammer 1994.
In November 2003, the year before the Olympic Games returned to its roots in Athens and as part of the above resolution, the UN General Assembly called "upon all Member States to cooperate with the International Olympic Committee in its efforts to use the Olympic Truce as an instrument to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation in areas of conflict during and beyond the Olympic Games period."
It went on to request "the Secretary-General to promote the observance of the Olympic Truce among Member States and support for human development initiatives through sport, and to cooperate with the International Olympic Committee in the realisation of these objectives."
The presentation and adoption of this UN resolution every two years is far from the only support the Olympic Truce receives from the international community before and during the Games. Celebrities from around the world also play their part in ensuring that the Olympic Games and sport in general help resolve conflicts and promote the Olympic values of friendship and respect.
The main objectives pursued by the IOC through the Olympic Truce are to mobilise youth for the promotion of the Olympic ideal, to use sport to help build bridges between communities in conflict, and, more generally, to create a window of opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation.
The Organising Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOGs) all contribute fully to promoting these themes, while the IOC's undertakings for the Olympic Truce extend beyond the period of the Olympic Games and have led to the implementation of a series of "sport for peace" activities through its more than 200 National Olympic Committees.