The Olympic Truce and an Olympic Korea
By Hugh Dugan
Founder of the Truce Foundation of the USA
16 November 2017
New York, New York - To help pave the road to Pyeongchang 2018, the United Nations agreed to the customary Olympic Truce on Monday 13 November, calling for safe passage, access, and participation, to apply to the XXIII Olympic Winter Games commencing in February.
Flanked by the United Nations’ famous green marble podium, calls for the Olympic Truce carried more immediacy than in previous years given the escalating security and political tensions on the Korean peninsula.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and PyeongChang 2018 President Lee Hee-beom urged all to take the opportunity of the Games for the promotion of peace and cooperation in that region and beyond. Over a dozen countries rose to affirm that sport can bridge differences and foster peace under rules of fair play. The North Korean Delegation did not speak, nor did it naysay or qualify the Truce. The UN membership then pledged overwhelmingly to observe the Truce. Its terms are detailed in the UN resolution “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal” (A/72/L.5 dated 3 November 2017).
The Games will be held within an hour’s train ride from North Korea. The two Koreas are still technically at war. Although armistice or ceasefire was forged in 1953, there has not been realized a peace treaty between these combatants across what is the world’s most heavily armed border, the demilitarized zone.
While that ceasefire truce oversees today’s hot stalemate, the Olympic Truce oversees the Olympic Movement as its highest theology. The United Nations resolved that the Truce’s calming penumbra widen over the fields of play and perhaps expand into a demilitarized sporting zone on the entire Korean peninsula.
In effect as early as 776 B.C. and revived for the modern era at the UN in 1993, the Olympic Truce is the oldest international agreement in effect today. It symbolizes eternal values - peace, solidarity, and respect - as stated by President Bach at the United Nations. The Olympic Truce
- mobilizes youth for the promotion of the Olympic ideals;
- uses sport to establish contacts between communities in conflict; and
- offers humanitarian support in countries at war; and more generally:
- creates a window of opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation.
As politics divides, sport unites. Pledged before each Games, the Olympic Truce has become the most supported agreement in UN history.
What does the Truce mean on the road to Pyeongchang 2018?
February’s peaceful assembly of world sport will be near a war-hot border. North Korean nuclear provocations and tentative reactions by others have magnified uncertainties.
Anxieties about the safety of athletes and others have been voiced. In turn, senior-most Olympic officials believe that well-managed, secure Games could again and more markedly broker international tensions into mutual respect and cooperation, if only for a few weeks.
North Korean possible participation at Pyeongchang would be the first time combatting states would compete in the Olympics in one such country. The Olympic Truce would be borne out.
So, Olympic and South Korean officials continue to welcome North Korea to compete at the Games. Fortunately, some North Korean athletes are qualifying in their events. There are exceptions on the table to allow other North Korean athletes to attend, as well.
And what does North Korea’s regime think?
Although not yet signaling its intentions at the UN or elsewhere, nor has North Korea closed that door. But it undoubtedly carries a grudge from earlier Games.
During the Seoul 1988 Olympics, North Korea tried to take some of the South’s limelight by proposing to co-host the Games. It mistakenly calculated that any rebuff would trigger yet another boycotted Olympics following Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984. Humiliated by having overplayed its hand, in the end the North sent only officials but no athletes. Eventually progress was politically possible with teams from each the North and South processing under one flag at the Sydney 2000 and other Opening Ceremonies, although remaining separate in competition.
However, the big-picture irony is that the two countries already have a truce, a cease-fire armistice agreed in 1953. The Korean War, authorized by the United Nations in 1950 and fought by a US-led police action, was meant to repel communist insurgency. The gist: can there emerge a political reckoning?
Today, going from armistice to outright peace in the region would require an antidote, a United Nations authorized peace treaty, at the least.
But North Korea is stunted by a freedom-deficient upbringing. Ignored as a second-tier ward by its Chinese and Soviet parentage, it never evolved past the curled-smoke airs and shiny promises of the utopian state. The hermit kingdom appears as a man-cave for a brooding juvenile delinquent. The Kim regime apparently subsists with a self-defeating personality disorder sabotaging international acceptance and respect as a matter of its own device.
Indeed, nuclear war on the Peninsula is but one of the modern obstacles on the path to the Games for the Olympic Truce’s attention. The Olympic Truce, as a forcefield for fairness, transparency, and honesty, has many other obstacles for surmounting.
For instance, terrorism, not only state-sponsored, but also lone-wolf terrorism, is a growing threat. Consider Las Vegas and other open-air assaults on masses of innocents. Also, nascent forms of cyber-terrorism threaten online delivery and participation in the Games.
A further obstacle is financial inequality which can impede participation. Thankfully the Olympic Solidarity program continues to surmount it through its grants to athletic programs in need.
Doping is another obstacle for the Truce to encompass. It compromises not only the sporting outcomes, but the health and safety of athletes themselves. The Truce could be more explicitly referenced and enlivened to the anti-doping fight.
More generally, corruption of any sort in sport impedes safety, access, and participation in the Games. Corruption robs the spirit of fair play, and therefore must be called out, banished from the opening footraces to the concluding marathon.
In ancient times, the footrace was the sole event, and therefore the entirety of the sacred Games. And the Olympic Truce was all of international law among city states and their reaches.
Today, sport and society have evolved elaborately, and together shall manage the obstacles on the road to the Olympics’ highest purpose, mankind’s harmonious development. How? Our support of the Truce makes us participants in the fair play of sport and no longer merely spectators of a game.
So, the United Nations membership has pledged itself to observe the Olympic Truce for the safe passage, access, and participation of all. While there are many actors and offices meant to absorb that objective, the most visible are always the youth on the fields and podiums. The example of their athletic excellence and sportsmanship at Pyeonchang, promoting peace and human understanding through sport and the Olympic ideal, ultimately will draw us all in as participants, too, whether friend or foe, near or far.