According to the Olympic Charter, one of the formal goals of the Olympic movement is to serve “the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society.” In other words, the organizers of the Olympics seek to use the games as a way to encourage global peace. Yet, as Keith Rathbone points out at The Conversation , the Olympic committee has but a “very limited ability to promote peace between warring nations.”
Rathbone begins his article by explaining the role of peace in the “refoundation of the Olympic Games.” The people behind the modern-day Olympics organization, he shows, were highly driven by a desire to promote peace. In fact, a majority of the signers of the original Olympic Charter were a part of one peace movement or another, and several of them would go on to earn Nobel Peace Prizes. Rathbone also cites the founder of the International Olympics Committee, who, at one time, clearly stated his intention of promoting world peace through the athletic competitions.
Indeed, a number of the Olympic Games throughout the years have served to promote “international reconciliation,” as Rathbone says. They have helped bring unity back to war-torn and conflict-ridden parts of the globe. Rathbone offers specific examples of this in his article, citing the “global upheaval of the 1990s” in particular. He also points to the positive effects of the Olympic Truce, an element of the games inspired by the ancient Greek practice in the original Ancient Greek Games.
Despite the positive effects that the Olympics have had in the matter of world peace, Rathbone points out that the Olympic Games still have major limitations in this area. As Rathbone sharply reminds us, “the Olympics did not end either of the two world wars.” In fact, wars actually prevented the games from happening several times in the last century, and some governments, such as the Nazis, have actually used the games as occasions for exacerbating international conflicts.
Even this year’s Olympics in Pyeongchang has already brought along its own share of conflict. So, before we begin to rely on the Olympic Games as a solution to international conflicts, let’s remember that the Olympic Committee faces the same limitations that all other human institutions face. Among these is the inability to promote true and lasting peace.
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