FCO Public Diplomacy: The Olympic and Paralympic games 2012 - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence from Lord Bates of Langbaurgh

I was delighted to note that the Foreign Affairs Committee had launched a timely review of Foreign & Commonwealth Office Public Diplomacy surrounding the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The FCO's web-site right states that London 2012 is a "Once in a generation opportunity" and that the "London Olympic Games will focus the world's attention on Britain." This is true, but the evidence presented suggested that there are currently some serious oversights on aspects of the public diplomacy preparations for the Games. Your oral evidence session on 10 November highlighted many of these as did the written submission of the FCO, however I want to focus my evidence to the committee on one particular aspect of the Olympic Games which was not mentioned—The Olympic Truce.

Next year, Lord Coe, as Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and on behalf of the Government of the United Kingdom and the International Olympic Committee will move the formal adoption of the Olympic Truce for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games before the United Nations General Assembly.

The wording of the Truce will be based on the first UN Olympic Truce Resolution (A/RES/48/11) and urges:

"all Member States to take the initiative to abide by the Truce, individually and collectively, and to pursue in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations the peaceful settlement of all international conflicts."

If past experience is to be repeated then the London 2012—Olympic Truce Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly will be immediately signed by all 193 member states of the United Nations and the universally ignored. Leaving aside the ethical questions as to whether the UK Government should be proposing or signing a UN Resolution which it has absolutely no intention, as it stand, of abiding by I am more concerned about the missed opportunity this represents to challenge negative aspects of the UK's reputation abroad emanating from some recent military engagements.

By being the first Host Government of the Olympic Games in the modern era of the Games to take the Truce seriously, I believe that there is an opportunity to:

1.  Enhance Britain's reputation and standing in the international community;

2.  Pursue the aims of the National Security Strategy to "Tackle the causes of conflict" and to focus resources on conflict prevention as stated by the prime minister in his statement to the House of Commons on the national Security & Defence Review when he said on 19 October col 798 of the official report:

"We must get better at treating the causes of instability, not just dealing with the consequences. When we fail to prevent conflict and have to resort to military intervention the costs, are always far higher."

3.  Enhance security surrounding the Games: whilst in no way lowering our guard, it would seem logical that if the UK Government declares its intention to ensure that the London 2012 Games are the first in which the Truce will be taken seriously and that this will be accompanied by humanitarian rather than military interventions in the most conflict affected parts of the world, then even if it reduces the extreme threat level by just one or two degrees then that would seem an initiative worth taking.

The wording of the London 2012 Olympic Truce is currently been worked on jointly by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Department of Culture Media and Sport with the International Team at the FCO taking the lead—as I understand it. Given that this is the case I found the fact that in the 49 points offered to the Committee by the FCO on preparations for London 2012 not one referred to the Olympic Truce. Nor was this mentioned by Jeremy Browne in his evidence. I believe that this is a significant missed opportunity.

When I initiated a debate on the Olympic Truce in the House of Lords on 11 October, 2010 the minister, Baroness Rawlings said in response:

"The Government take the truce very seriously and will be taking measures to make sure it is properly observed and promoted in relation to the 2012 London Olympic & Paralympic Games." (Hansard col. 368)

By way of background: Today the Olympic Truce is seen as symbolic act accompanied by a flag outside the Olympic Stadium and a peace wall inside the Olympic village, but that was not always the case. At the outset of the Ancient Olympic Games the Truce was not symbolic but scared.

In 776 BC the Greek King Iphitos frustrated at the perpetual state of war consulted the Oracle at Delphi who proposed a sporting competition every four years which would have as its aim the bringing together the military and political leaders in one place where they could seek to resolve their differences peacefully and athletes competed together as Olympians rather than citizens of a city state.

The Sacred Truce was remarkably successful: The ancient Olympics ran for 1168 years until they were ended by the Romans in AD394. During that time violations of the Truce were extremely rare.

By contrast In the 116 years of the Modern Olympiad the Games have had to be cancelled three times due to war, have experienced major boycotts five times and been the focal point of terrorist attacks twice.

In ancient Greece they stopped fighting to take part in the Games, in the Modern era we stop the Games in order to keep fighting. What is it that we have lost in 3,000 years of civilisation that makes even today the notion that combatants may exercise restraint during a period of Truce such a distant dream?

Of course, there are major differences and these should be acknowledged:

The ancient Games the athletes competed together as "Olympians" rather than as representatives' of any city or nation state. This ideal is reflected in the opening and closing ceremonies of the modern Games where athletes enter the stadium in their national teams at the start of the Games, but enter together as "Olympians" for the closing ceremony.

Many of the conflicts happening around the world today are civil conflicts and involve non-state actors. Given that the non-state actors are by definition not members of the United Nations and as such not signatories to the UN Resolution.

In the ancient Games the Truce was sacred because the Games were held on neutral and sacred ground at the Temple of Zeus, Olympia, which was like a combination between Wembley Stadium and Westminster Abbey and athletes assumed an appropriate reverence in their conduct. Today the Games are invariably awarded to political nation States and far from being a unifying force, diverse religious beliefs can be a barrier.

Given these substantial differences between the Modern and Ancient Games it is understandable that the Olympic Truce has been found to be politically too hot to handle and therefore downgrade to a symbolic gesture to our ancient forebears, my question is simply to ask, could it be something more than that. Not sacred, not symbolic but perhaps serious.

What does a serious Truce look like in the modern context?

The first change which would be required for the Olympic Truce to be taken seriously would be for the responsibility for its implementation to be taken by governments and the United Nations rather than athletes and organisers. In the past governments have willingly put their names to the Olympic Truce Resolution but then take two rather large steps forward and insisted that it is the responsibility of the Organising Committee and the Olympic Committee to acknowledge the Truce. LOCOG have a huge responsibility to deliver a world-class sporting event and the athletes are focussed on making sure that they are at the peak of their performance. Only governments have access to the full range of political and diplomatic levers which will need to be pulled in order to move from a symbolic to a serious Truce.

The second change which is necessary for the Truce to be taken seriously would be for the diplomatic planning of the Truce to be commenced at least two years in advance of the Games rather, than a few months, which has recently been the norm. These are highly complex negotiations, the equal of an inter-governmental conference, and need to be given an equivalent time and resource. That is why there is, in my view, a narrow window of opportunity to convince the government of the merits of the case for Truce. If Lord Coe's proposition of the Truce at the UN General Assembly next year is not accompanied by a public and tangible declaration of the support by the UK government then the prospects for success are all but eliminated.

Third, the attention needs to be shifted beyond the Truce as an institution to the Truce as an instrument. When the guns fall silent then the voices of reason can be heard above the bomb and the bullet and when the guns stop then the delivery of vital humanitarian aid can start. Here we have an inspirational and topical example to draw upon:

Jeremy Gilley, a British documentary producer who began a campaign in 1997 to get the international community through the United Nations to advance a one day of global peace—the campaign is called "Peace One Day" www.peaceoneday.org .In 2001 that campaign was endorsed unanimously by the United Nations, like the Olympic Truce and was proposed by the British Government. In 2007-08 and 2009 Peace One Day brokered a one day truce in Afghanistan between warring factions including the Taliban and the result was to allow health workers from UNICEF, WHO, UNAMA and other agencies to move into hitherto unreachable areas due to violent conflict and immunize 4.5 million children against polio—it is an utterly inspiring story and it shows what can be possible through a period of Truce.

Some may look upon the Truce as dangerous and naïve, but I would counter that the opposite is actually the case. The Truce obliges the signatory only to "pursue initiatives for peace and reconciliation," if other parties, state or non-state do not accept the offer then we are under no obligation to hold to it ourselves. A Truce is an agreement between two or more warring parties—no agreement, no Truce.

Finally, I believe there are some reasons why London as Host City for the Games would be ideally placed to be the first to embrace the Truce in the modern era of the Olympics:

First, London is without doubt the most ethnically diverse city ever to host the Games, a true crossroads of the world, but is also one which bears the scars of the aerial bombardments in WWI and WWII, and terrorist attacks in the name of Irish Republicanism and Muslim fundamentalism—most recently and most deadly being the July 7th bombings of 2005 claiming 52 lives and injuring 700 which came the day after it was announced that London had been awarded the Games. It is the only city to have hosted the Games three times and it was the place of the first Paralympic Games (then called the International Wheelchair Games) in 1946. It is also the place where the world came together in 1946 for the First General Assembly of the United Nations in Methodist Central Hall and the first meeting of the United Nations Security Council. It is the place of the Downing Street Declaration. It has played host to the Live Aid Concert which drew an international response to the famine in Ethiopia and to the Live 8 concert and the jubilee campaign for debt forgiveness.

I believe that the Olympic Truce, as originally intended, could be a powerful force in the public diplomacy efforts of the FCO.

25 November 2010

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