The theme of this year’s International Day of Peace – “End Racism. Build Peace” – carries with it particular resonance for the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Movement. The fundamental idea behind the Olympic Games is to unite the entire world in peaceful competition. Peace is at the very heart of this mission.
At the Olympic Games, the athletes embody this peace mission when they set aside the differences that divide the world. They compete fiercely against each other for the highest prize, while living peacefully together under one roof in the Olympic Village. This makes the Olympic Games a powerful symbol of peace.
But peace is about much more than setting aside differences. It is about creating a better world where everyone is able to flourish, in which people are treated equally, and where racism and all forms of discrimination have no place.
Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympic Games to make a contribution to peace through sport. He said, “We shall not have peace until the prejudices that now separate the different races are outlived.”
Non-discrimination is therefore in the DNA of the IOC and the Olympic Games. At the Games, everyone is equal, irrespective of race, social background, gender, sexual orientation or political belief. The principle of non-discrimination is enshrined in the Olympic Charter. The athletes bring this principle to life during the Olympic Games, inspiring billions of people around the world.
When it comes to building lasting peace, non-discrimination alone is not enough. It is not enough just to respect each other – we need to go a step further and support one another. We have to stand together in solidarity. There is no peace without solidarity.
Solidarity is at the heart of the Olympic Games. This is why the IOC redistributes 90% of all its revenue to support the athletes and the development of sport around the world.
Driven by our commitment to solidarity, the IOC created the first ever Refugee Olympic Team for the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and another for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. For the first time in Olympic history, refugee athletes competed side by side with the teams from all other National Olympic Committees, sending a message of hope and inclusion to all refugees in the world. As they have no national team to belong to, no flag to march behind, no anthem to be played and no home to call their own, we welcomed the refugee athletes to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and the Olympic anthem. We gave them a home in the Olympic Village. The Olympic message of this emotional moment was: You are our fellow human beings and you are an enrichment to our Olympic community.
Today, we are standing together in solidarity with the Ukrainian Olympic community. What applies to Ukraine also applies to other members of our Olympic community. We are a global organization. This is why we are supporting the Olympic communities in Afghanistan, Yemen and so many other places affected by wars and conflicts around the world.
These solidarity efforts are also at the heart of our commitment to build better understanding among people. In this way, the IOC has been building bridges through sport and opening the door to better understanding, peace and reconciliation. This has been true in recent years in many conflict situations, like North and South Korea, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Kosovo, Israel, Palestine, Iran and many others.
At a time when humanity is facing so many existential crises simultaneously, our mission of peace and solidarity is more important than ever.
The Olympic Games cannot prevent wars and conflicts. They cannot address all the political and social challenges in our world. But they can set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another.
There is a new world order in the making. We can already see today that this new world order will be more divisive than the one we are striving for. This unfortunate trend is diametrically opposed to our Olympic mission to unite the world in peaceful competition. We know that in these divisive and confrontational times, we are not alone in looking for a common bond of humanity. Millions of people around the world are longing for peace. Together with all these people of goodwill, we want to make our modest contribution to peace by unifying the entire world in peaceful competition. To commit ourselves even further to this unifying peace mission, we recently amended our Olympic motto to: Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together.
The word “together” highlights the fact that to overcome challenges – whether as individuals, as a community or as humankind – we need to stand together.
On this International Day of Peace, and in this Olympic spirit of solidarity and peace, I strongly reiterate the appeal to all political leaders around the world that I made at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, in front of a global audience of hundreds of millions: Give peace a chance.
Thomas Bach is president of the International Olympic Committee.