Military Role in Olympic Welcome and Victory Ceremonies

peaceletterAn open letter :

from Pax Christi and Westminster Justice and Peace

to the Board Members of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games

Dear Members

Peace, the root value of the Olympic Games

We are among the founding members of ‘The 100 Days of Peace’ (the Olympic Sacred Truce).  This is an initiative of a network of Christian groups who believe that London’s hosting of the Olympic Games provides an excellent opportunity to promote and reassert, in London and beyond, our commitment to peace and reconciliation, unity, internationalism and cooperation.  We believe we can build a real legacy of peace for our own London citizens – in schools, places of worship and community networks that will embrace the needs of the global community and extend far beyond the Olympic Games themselves.

This initiative is inspired by the Olympic Truce tradition and vision. Indeed, Lord Coe, the chairman of London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) and representing the British Government, presented a resolution at the UN last October calling for a truce to be observed in all the world’s conflicts throughout the duration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sport helps to mend broken communities

Some visitors to London this summer will be from countries in conflict, perhaps even facing internal repression.  All the more important then that the message of peace and the creation of a community of ordinary people who can live, work and solve problems together should be central to this uniting of nations under the Olympic ideals.  Lord Coe affirmed this at the UN saying that sport … “can and does help to mend broken communities, rebuild trust, rediscover self-respect, and foster the values at the core of our common humanity.’   It is therefore with some dismay that we hear of the central role being allocated to the Armed Forces during the Games in the Welcome and Victory ceremonies.

Why it matters

We find it difficult to equate this prominent role with the ideal of the Olympic Truce.   Engaging our armed services in this manner could give a militaristic message at what is arguably the greatest of all international gatherings that Britain will host, and might not be conducive to creating a welcoming atmosphere for those attending.   It could also be perceived as  insensitive to visitors from countries still experiencing violence and repression, and likewise to those of our London citizens who are sanctuary-seekers themselves from war-torn countries.

A possible alternative

This engagement could appear imbalanced, moreover, beside other ‘services’ within the UK  which make a vital contribution to society, and  which witness to the values outlined above by Lord Coe.   We suggest that the role of flag bearing and so on be extended to inspirational people and volunteers in other services, such as nurses, doctors, teachers, community organisers, social workers, ambulance, fire-service and coastguard workers, and even older competitors or referees from the 1948 Olympics.  Then to emphasise unity of purpose, one might have Paralympians for the Olympic ceremonies  and Olympians for the Paralympian ceremonies).  All of these people, as well as the Forces personnel, are inspirational for our society.

We urge you to reconsider this aspect of the role of the Armed Forces in the XXXth  Olympiad and Paralympics, andinstead, lead the way in offering more inclusive and peaceful models of security, cooperation and internationalism  so as to create a real legacy of peace that honours London, Britain, the international community and the Olympics.

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