The Olympic Movement the United Nations and the Pursuit of Common Ideals

By Bach, Thomas | UN Chronicle, September 2016 | Go to article overview

The Olympic Movement the United Nations and the Pursuit of Common Ideals


Bach, Thomas, UN Chronicle


When the people of the world cheer on their national teams entering the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games on 5 August 2016, viewers will notice something new. For the first time, a team of athletes composed entirely of refugees will march proudly behind the Olympic flag as part of the Refugee Olympic Team.

In an effort to make the world better aware of the magnitude of the worldwide refugee crisis, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the creation of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team during the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. Ten athletes of the Team will compete side by side with teams from all 206 National Olympic Committees. It will represent the 65 million refugees worldwide who have been left without a home because of conflict and war. The refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talents, skills and the strength of the human spirit. The Team will serve as a symbol of hope for all the world's refugees and signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and enrich society. In this way, the Refugee Olympic Team stands for the universal values of tolerance, solidarity and peace. It is a reminder of the overall objective of the Olympic Movement--to make the world a better place through sport.

The Refugee Olympic Team also highlights the ideals that unite IOC and the United Nations. Both organizations are built on the same foundation of the shared values of tolerance, solidarity and peace. Their common goal is the peaceful development of humankind.

These values are at the heart of the Olympic Movement. They are anchored in the Olympic Charter, which codifies the principles of Olympism as conceived by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games. The Olympic Charter specifies that: "The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

In Olympic sport, everyone is equal, irrespective of their background, gender, social status or beliefs. This principle of non-discrimination in sport allows the Olympic Games to promote peace and understanding among all people. Sport is one of the few areas of human activity that has achieved universal law. Regardless of where in the world we practise sport, the rules are the same: the 100-metre run is always the 100-metre run, wherever you are. The rules are based on universal values of fair play, respect and friendship, and they are recognized worldwide.

In our globalized world, sport has a unique power to bring people together. The Olympic Games give us hope that a better world is possible because they set an example of peaceful global interaction.

The Olympic Village is the best illustration of this spirit of unity in diversity. In the Village, athletes from all 206 National Olympic Committees live together in harmony under one roof and without any kind of discrimination. In what is literally a global village, the athletes get to know and understand each other on a human level by sharing their experiences, emotions and meals. They also share their respect for excellence, whether in victory or defeat. Thus, the Olympic athletes set an example for the whole world, showing that it is possible to engage in competition while living peacefully together.

In this sense, the United Nations and the Olympic Movement share not only the same goals, but the same principles of how to go about making the world a better place. The activities of both organizations highlight the importance of the principles of universality, equality, non-discrimination and respect for rules. This is what United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon aptly summarizes when he says: "Olympic principles are United Nations principles". …

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