If you think sport is just a celebration of athletic skill, the Olympics are here to convince you that it has a far loftier purpose.
In 2007, then International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge said, “Sport alone cannot enforce or maintain peace. But it has a vital role to play in building a better and more peaceful world.”
The Olympic Truce is part of this. First adopted at the inaugural Olympic Games in 776 BC, and reintroduced by the IOC in the 1990s, the truce seeks to end conflict around the world. It’s interesting to think that we could be witnessing the embodiment of this ancient agreement through a poorly-prepared Korean women’s ice hockey team at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Brought together as part of inter-Korea conciliatory measures, players from war-separated North and South Korea played their first practice match as the united Korean Olympic women’s ice hockey team in a ‘friendly’ against Sweden just days before the Games started (see image above).
The team is an Olympic truce of sorts. The first truce (or Ekecheiria) was established by Iphitos, King of Elis. With the support of Cleisthenes of Pisa and Lycurgus of Sparta, he drew up a truce, decreeing all regional conflict—and there was a lot of it—must halt every four years to allow the Games to take place.
Fast forward a few millennia and, after negotiations with the UN, the truce was reinstated at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympics. In his opening ceremony speech, then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch bluntly noted that Sarajevo, which had hosted the Olympic Winter Games just a decade earlier, was being decimated by war.
“Our message is stronger than ever,” he said. “Please stop the fighting. Please stop the killing. Please drop your guns.”
Only time will tell if harmony between the two Koreas was kick-started by a team of women hitting an ice hockey puck around a rink. Certainly, the match against Sweden seemed to be more than a game to most of the 3,000 spectators. The united Korean team lost 3–1, but the score was irrelevant.
“I don’t even care about the results. I just want to cheer for them and see them work together and help each other out on the ice,” Kim Hye-ryeon told UK newspaper The Independent, with another fan reporting he was honoured to be there “while history was being made”.
“If we ever get unified again, these young players of the south and north will be able to look back and be proud that what they did contributed to a historic change,” he said.
A spirit of living in harmony with others—whether as nations or neighbours—is something for us all to strive to achieve. It’s certainly something the writer of Hebrews, a book in the Bible, urged his readers to value. “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, since no-one will see God without it” (Hebrews chapter 12, verse 14).