The Olympic Truce gets an original guide

Hopes for lasting peace among nations may have died with the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, but for peace in shorter spurts, and in the direct context of the Olympic Games, the dream certainly hasn’t breathed its last. Yesterday morning, a clutch of Olympic officials, including International Olympic Committee President (and International Truce Center Chairman) Jacques Rogge and Athens 2004 head Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, gathered for the official launch of a booklet and teaching aid designed to introduce schoolchildren worldwide to the ideals of Olympism, and specifically to one of the bedrocks of the ancient (and, increasingly, the modern) Games: the truce. For something whose origins are misty at best and whose scope probably changed over time, the Olympic Truce has been a remarkably durable institution, finding new life in the 1990s even as the Balkan conflicts raged. This collective agreement among ancient city-states to cease fighting during and around the Olympic Games originated, legend has it, as a trilateral arrangement sometime before 776 BC between King Iphitus of Elis (ancient Ileia), Cleosthenes of Pisa, and Lycurgus of Sparta, which added a political dimension to what was already a religious-cum-athletic event at Olympia. The idealistic – even if not the equally important practical – implications of the original truce are being promoted avidly in the context of the Athens 2004 Games. And its values are now explored for the younger set in colorful and appealing fashion in «The Truce Story: Educating About Peace Through Sport,» a new publication conceived and written by Rachel Howard, illustrated by Calliope Iconomacou and published by Dora Pallis that aims, as International Olympic Truce Center director Stavros Lambrinidis said, to impart the simple but powerful message to youngsters that «You can’t fight and play at the same time.» Utilizing fictional teen characters Irene (a refugee from the war-torn city of «Dead End,» which is divided by a wall) and Filon, the story artfully blends Greek myth, comic style, symbolism, modern-style political issues, and determinedly multiethnic figures Ali, Angelos, Indira and Wu, into a broader message about the importance of resolving conflict in a non-violent fashion and within the context of sport. The booklet, with reportedly up to 2 million copies being printed, comes in seven languages. Support from on high It was then possible to go into the foyer to sign a separate booklet advocating the truce; Nelson Mandela is among the luminaries whose signature appears (nobody else had even dared sign on the same page). Among those present, IOC member Thomas Sithole called the booklet and guide a valuable toolkit, and added that peace is easy to take for granted in less fractious parts of the world. Coming from Zimbabwe, he should know. Starting young, starting with the individual, and emphasizing the need for active intervention with young minds seem to be the overriding aims. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) under Director-General Koichiro Matsuura is intimately involved in promoting these initiatives and this work, as is the Institute for Olympic Education in Alberta, Canada. The former is already distributing the booklet within their network that will reach upward of 70 countries and encompass thousands of schools worldwide. The keynote speaker, George Papandreou, who apart from running for prime minister and serving as PASOK’s new president is also vice chairman of the Truce Center, called the center a «distant dream» when it was first mooted in 1998 and established just three years ago; now it’s «becoming a reality» even if fulfilling its aims resembles a «marathon.» The foundations, however, go back to 1992, when it was first proposed at the United Nations, and the General Assembly resolution of November 2003 (co-sponsored by 190 countries, it being hard to advocate publicly against world peace) is the latest such truce resolution. Papandreou also promised a «safe, secure, and successful Games» in 2004, preferring not to stray too far from current realities that have required a massive, un-truce-like security operation in Athens. The presentation also included video presentations of other inspiring stories, however loosely linked to the truce itself. These included Jesse Owens’s legendary long-jump duel with his German rival, Luz Long, at Berlin in 1936, and an intriguing (but politically very uncomfortable) Cold War romance at the 1956 Melbourne Games, between Harold Connolly, US gold medalist in the hammer throw, and Olga Fikotova, the Czech discus winner, which led to their marriage the following year. The divorce that ended the bond 16 years later was not, perhaps, the best metaphor for the long-term aims of the truce initiative («If we can stop fighting for 16 days, maybe we can do it forever»), but hope was still the operative feeling at the morning’s launch. «Peace begins at home; peace begins from within» was educator Deanna Binder’s apt summary of the effort, of which we shall surely hear much more – hopefully with some indication of justice as a necessary corollary to peace itself, and without which it means little.