John Glen is the MP for Salisbury
On Good Friday 2011, Michael Bates (Lord Bates) set off on a 3000-mile walk that would take him from Olympia to Westminster, through 16 countries over 300 days. He arrives back in the UK – at Dover – today, and on Wednesday next week he will cross Westminster bridge and arrive at the Houses of Parliament, ready to resume his seat in the House of Lords in the afternoon.
Michael's walk has not been without its trials. Following a fall down a ravine in the Alps he dislocated his shoulder and fractured his arm. He was able to get back on his route thanks to the staff at Hospital du Valais, and support of friends and family who took it in turns to go out and carry his luggage. Michael would hate to read that I am promoting his efforts and not just the truce but he should be justly proud of what he has achieved.
Every Olympic year since 1993, a UN resolution has been put and signed by all 193 member states, urging “all Member States to take the initiative to abide by the Truce, individually and collectively, and to pursue in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations the peaceful settlement of all international conflicts”. However, this has rarely been observed by the signatories; with the exception in Sarajevo in 1994 where a ceasefire was instituted which allowed thousands of children to be inoculated. The main aim of the truce is to create a window where humanitarian aid – such as vaccinations – can reach conflict zones and save lives.
The initial aim of the Olympic Games, after all, was to bring about peace as athletes would compete as Olympians, not as members of states. From 776 BC, a truce was declared seven days before the Olympics until seven days after in order to ensure the safe passage of athletes, officials, and spectators.
Much has changed, as the truce is now, for most people, a sadly peripheral aspect of the Olympic Games. Since their resumption in 1896, the Games have had to be cancelled three times because of war, have experienced major boycotts on five occasions, and have twice been targeted by terrorist attacks. We would do well to remember that the true spirit of the Olympic Games is not tourism or national prestige but facilitating cooperation and promoting peace.
Michael, a former Conservative Minister, has been campaigning for a meaningful observance of the Olympic Truce for London 2012. So far, he has met and won support from His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN, and Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee. He has met with Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Foreign Secretaries and secured commitments from seven foreign nations to both sign and implement the Truce. British Embassies and Consulates across his route have expressed enthusiasm for the truce, which gives hope that the British Foreign Office is committed to widespread implementation of the truce in 2012.
David Cameron pledged his support for the truce on 29th June 2011, stating, “The whole House will want to congratulate Lord Bates … We will promote a fresh resolution at the UN calling for the continued observance of the Olympic Truce … We wish to make the most of that historic opportunity”.
In the light of significant domestic commitments and international conflicts, implementing the Olympic Truce may be thought to be a relatively small opportunity. But as Michael said in his reflections on the New Year, “honouring commitment in small things is a very big thing”.
I hope that Michael’s courage and sacrifice exhibited in his walk will encourage and inspire the British government, as well as governments across the world, to honour the spirit of the Olympics and implement the Olympic Truce for 2012. Welcome back Michael and Well Done!