The Olympic spirit has been high over the past 2 weeks, both locally here in Boston and throughout the nation and globe. It is truly a worldwide shared experience (not only are 204 countries represented, this year all countries participating sent women athletes, leading to the unofficial designation as the Year of the Woman!). The Olympics, in a small (and large way, since 3.2 billion people are tuning in!), represents much of the mission of the UN – as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in remarks leading up to the London games, “today, sports and events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games break down barriers by bringing together people from all around the world and all walks of life….The Olympic Truce – and more broadly the Olympic ideal — carries a powerful message: that people and nations can set aside their differences and live and work together in harmony. And if they can do it for one day, or for one event, they can do it forever. This is the dream on which the United Nations is built, and the goal of our daily work.”
Bringing forth this mission, the UN has helped the Olympics get off to a fiery start late last month. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon took part in the Olympic torch relay in London, setting the flame and the stage for the world’s biggest athletics meet. Dressed in a white tracksuit, he cited the experience as a great honor and congratulated the UK on their preparations for the events which will continue into September. He then participated in the opening ceremony, carrying the Olympic flag with fellow peace makers and global heavyweights Daniel Barenboim, Sally Becker, Shami Chakrabati, Leymah Gbowee, Haile Gebrselassie, Doreen Lawrence, Marina Silva, and Muhammad Ali.
Ban also addressed the UN’s Olympics truce resolution. The resolution calls on Member States cooperate with Olympic committees to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation. The truce is based on the Greek Olympic tradition of ensuring that athletes return to safe villages once the games concluded; the UN’s modern version has been in place at every Olympiad since 1993.
The UN hoped that this year’s resolution would be signed unanimously by all 193 member-states to observe peaceful activity until from the opening ceremony, July 27, to the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, September 9. The news comes as concern grows surrounding unrest in Syria– Moon thought this was a good opportunity to urge the Syrian government to halt their offense.
Furthermore, the Secretary-General advised us to be considerate of those around the globe who do not have access to sport, encouraging governments to provide opportunities to their citizens, not as a luxury but as a path to healthier living, cooperation, and mutual tolerance and respect. He added, “When you see the magic that a ball can create among children in a shantytown or refugee camp, you see potential that we must harness.” Mr. Ban said, “If people and nations can set aside their differences, if they can place harmony over hostility, if they can do it for one day, or for one event, they can do it forever.”
Other UN agencies raising awareness at the games include UNEP (Environment), UNHCR, (Refugees), and UNAIDS (HIV/AIDS). UNEP is working with the International Olympic Committee to ensure that the games are sustainable while UNICEF, UNESCO, and the World Health Organization will be holding side events over the next few weeks. Let us not forget about all of the UN Goodwill Ambassadors who are also participating in the games. High-profile athletes from all over the world are competing in soccer/football, swimming, tennis and more. For example, representing the US and UNICEF is Serena Williams, while Maria Sharapova, Lee Chong Wei, and Ana Ivanovic are representing Russia, Malaysia, and Serbia respectively.
Locally the Olympics are also making quite the splash here. Massachusetts has a few athletes competing, such as Stuart McNay, a sailor from Newton, Karen O’Connor, an equestrian from Bolton. Boston’s brightest star during the games has been Aly Raisman, a Team USA captain and Needham teen, who won gold along with her USA teammates in Women’s Team Gymnastics, came in fourth for the all-around competition, and will be competing today in the beam and floor exercise finals. It’s not just Massachusetts natives we’re cheering for; there are many athletes competing who are Mass. college and university students or alumni. Massachusetts students are making an impact on the games, and Harvard and BU are topping the all-time medal count when it comes to local institutions. Harvard grads have earned 91 medals since the first Olympiad, and this year’s stars are from the Crimson’s crew team.
To keep the local spirit going, join UNA-GB in rooting for our athletes in addition to championing the Olympics as an example of how sports can bring people together not only competitively but also in a peaceful manner. As Ban Ki-moon says, “One day of peace can lead to a week of peace … a month of peace … and eventually an end to war. The United Nations was founded on this dream. Every day we work to make peace a reality. May the torch of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London unite the world for harmony and peace.”