NEWS

Tragic roots, but hopeful future for major sporting event

The International Olympic Committee often states that it is a non-political organization. Yet now we have a war raging in Iraq and high tensions everywhere. Does this change the perspective we should have on the Olympic Games? The Olympic Games, politics and peace have always had a difficult coexistence. Three Games were canceled, in World War I, the 1916 Games, and then the 1940 and 1944 Games… We’ve had the Munich drama, the Palestinians and the Israelis, we’ve had different boycotts, 1976 with Africa, 1980 and the Western world, 1984 with the socialist countries, 1988, Cuba and Vietnam. But at the same time we’ve had a positive effect from the Games on politics. Like in ’92 in Barcelona, where Yugoslavia was on a banned list for sport; we could obtain from the United Nations an exemption, and the Yugoslav team participated. We had the Olympic Truce that has been passed by the United Nations General Assembly for the last five or six Games. George Papandreou will propose next year, for the host country, again a resolution for a Truce, and I am quite confident that we will have a positive outcome. You cannot isolate the Games from political turmoil, but the Games themselves never intervene in political conflict; on the contrary, we are the organization that brings everyone together. You had the two Korean teams marching together [in 2000]. We had the athletes of Sarajevo. But what we have to do is to reaffirm the neutrality of the IOC, and we will do everything we can, through the Ekecheiria (Truce), the resolutions of the United Nations, and so on, to bring together the athletes of the whole world. And Salt Lake City was actually the first moment where the whole world came back together to the United States; the Americans were very sensitive to that after 9/11. And God knows, I hope this conflict can be finished as soon as possible, but maybe Athens will be the big symbol of the world coming together after this conflict is finished. Into the 21st century Where do you see the Olympic movement in 20 years’ time? I don’t think the fundamental identity of the Games will change. Because the Games are, first of all, the dream of successive generations of athletes… In whatever sport and in whatever country, they train hard, they lead a Spartan life, and sport brings them a lot of educational values; teamwork, discipline, strengthening of body and mind, socializing skills. The identity of the Games in fact stems from Greek tragedy, where you had unity of time, place and function. And I think if we keep for the Games unity of place, in one city, not spread around the country; unity of time, two weeks, no more than that, not spreading over three or four or five months; and unity of action, where you have the best athletes of the major sports, competing at the same time, same city, there you have the essential success of the Games. If we can continue to fight for the values of sport, against doping, against corruption, against violence, against nationalism, then I am very optimistic about the future. Will there be changes? Yes, of course, but not in these fundamentals that I have described. The Olympic program might be different. Technology will be different, but fundamentally, every four years, I think, for a long period to come, athletes from all over the world will gather in a city, like they gathered in Greece 3,000 years ago, every four years, and there again you had the same essentials: unity of time, unity of place, unity of action. It’s a simple recipe – you have to be very astute to keep it.