The Olympic Ideal

Statement by the Permanent Representative of Cyprus, Ambassador Sotos Zackheos to the General Assembly, November 1997

Building a Peaceful and Better World through Sport and the Olympic Ideal

“The Olympic Truce is an expression of the yearning of mankind for peace, understanding, reconciliation and for the noble notion of distinction, based on honest competition. In the search for excellence every athlete is equal; and victory is the result of ability, training, hard work and perseverance. Discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with the Olympic spirit.”

At the end of 2006 The Music Business Forum was given a presentation by Jude Kelly and Nick Kenyon on the Cultural Olympics goals and perspective. A number of MBF delegates were concerned over two specific aspects of Ms Kelly and Mr Kenyon’s approach.

1. The emphasis was upon showing diversity and multi-cultural Britain via a series of events shows and attractions extolling the differences between the various cultures which make up British Society.

This is entirely contrary to The Olympic Ideal which aims to set aside differences of race colour and creed. All athletes have to obey the same rules of competition, fair play, dress and demeanour.

As well as an opportunity for truce as expressed above, the Olympics can also provide a global platform for political dissent and ideological battles. We remember only too well the black gloves on the podium in 1978, the atrocities at Munich in 1982 and the bombing in Atlanta in 1996. On the positive side we also remember the 1936 Berlin Games in which Jesse Owens, given a level playing field and a set of equal rules, defied Hitler’s assertion that white people were superior to black people.

I urge the Olympic organisers of 2012 to re-think the purpose of their initiatives by encouraging a laying aside of differences and showing how all people can work together in peace and harmony in cultural as well as in sporting events. Take inspiration from Daniel Barenboim’s Israeli/Palestinian orchestra.

2. Jude Kelly and Nick Kenyon are content to make performance art and music a pleasant diversion. The athletes, trained and ready for competition, parade out all in the same national costume preparing for action, while a rag bag of Welsh Choirs, Scottish pipers, Caribbean Steel Bands, Indian dancers and so on do their competent or incompetent best to provide the sideshow.

I see a huge potential opportunity being overlooked. Government and BOC members are vaunting 2012 as the platform on which to build a generation of young sports men and women with drive, expertise, competitive ‘winning’ spirit.

Why should this not apply equally to the young musicians, performers and artists coming up through school?

If you are good at a sport you will be nurtured into a world-beater understanding the need for discipline, diligence, teamwork and the will to win. We would like to see a programme of cultural activity leading up to 2012 which embraces the same philosophy for the millions of young Britons who can’t run fast or jump high but who can perform in the arts arena. This should be our cultural legacy.

Robin Millar
March 2007