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Olympic Games 2012: Olympic Truce

Volume 726: debated on Thursday 31 March 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what specific initiatives they are planning to implement the Olympic Truce for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

My Lords, the UK will be promoting a fresh resolution calling for the continued observance of the Olympic Truce for the 2012 Games and is currently working with overseas partners in 15 countries and planning activity in a further three on International Inspiration, a sports programme targeted at countries in development. Other initiatives are being considered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and we expect to learn the results of this work shortly. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is also undertaking truce-related programmes.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer and for the encouraging progress that has been made. Can she confirm that this Olympic Truce resolution is a resolution of the General Assembly of the UN, which quite specifically calls on all signatories to pursue initiatives for peace and reconciliation in the spirit of the ancient Games during the London 2012 Games? This year, the resolution will be not only signed but proposed by the United Kingdom Government. Does she agree that it therefore presents a unique opportunity to hand on a legacy from the London 2012 Olympic Games not only in medals won and land reclaimed but in the lives changed and saved and in the health and humanitarian aid extended?

I thank my noble friend and of course I agree with what he says. He is tireless in his work to achieve successful outcomes for 2012 through the Olympic Truce, which indeed presents a unique opportunity for the UK to lead on proposals for the sort of peace and reconciliation that he suggests. In previous years, these truce agreement proposals have not resulted too often in major outcomes, but that will not prevent us from trying again this year. It will, of course, be for the United Nations to agree policy actions.

My Lords, we must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bates, on his tenacity; I think that this is the third or fourth time that we have debated this and we are all becoming much more familiar with it. It is encouraging to hear today a significant change in the Minister’s reply. In the past, however charmingly she has replied, all that she has sent the noble Lord has been a “Dear John”, but maybe things are now changing. Having watched the cricket yesterday, do we not remind ourselves of the potency of sport for peaceful objectives? Having seen Pakistan and India sitting side by side and embracing each other, I wish his project well. I hope that the Minister will continue to use that as an example of sport and peace and the ways in which they can go together.

I thank the noble Baroness for her kind words in among that. I am not quite sure where the question was, but if it was whether we agree that sport is an excellent forum for international co-operation, the answer is yes, indeed we do. The Government have some major programmes to encourage sport among young people as well as to support our major adult sporting events.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that some of the finest athletes in the world, particularly long-distance runners, come from areas that are now troubled by war in one form or another? The idea of the truce was that people in those circumstances could get to the Games. Does she accept that we should do everything possible to ensure that good athletes can do so? Will she also recognise that few athletes remain at the top for more than four years and that if they are prevented from attending they have therefore lost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Not only are they disappointed, but so are the people who hoped to beat them.

My noble friend speaks from his own experience as an Olympic athlete and of course I agree with what he says. We in the UK will do what is in our power to encourage people from disadvantaged countries to attend and compete in the Games. A great deal of that depends on the response from those individual countries as well but, as I have said, that will not stop us trying.

My Lords, what success are the Government having in brokering a truce between the noble Lords, Lord Coe and Lord Moynihan?

The noble Lord raises an issue that has been in the news just recently. The two organisations that the noble Lords represent normally work closely together for the good of the outcomes of the Olympic Games and I have no doubt that, in the greater interests of delivering a highly successful 2012 Olympic Games, any disputes will soon be resolved.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be in the interests of peace and reconciliation if the directors of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club were to abandon their extraordinary attempt to go to judicial review over the legacy issue of the stadium?

My Lords, Tottenham Hotspur’s decision is probably slightly wide of the Olympic Truce, but I note what the noble Lord says.

Would it not be good if the idea of a truce were extended by this Government and indeed all our allies to all the major sporting gatherings—world cups, championships and so on—so that those taking part paid some attention to international activity outside? That would be a real legacy to take away and it would not be confined to an event that takes place once every four years.

I entirely agree with my noble friend. Sporting activities of any sort provide opportunities for co-operation internationally. We recognise that there is a high degree of competition between countries, but that does not alter the fact that there is tremendous camaraderie between sportsmen and sportswomen in any one sport. For them to get to know and befriend their counterparts in other countries can only be to the good in building international relations.

My Lords, does my noble friend feel able to mirror the Spirit of Cricket campaign that the MCC has promoted in furthering cricketing causes in Afghanistan, which was promoted originally by my dear late friend Lord Cowdrey?

My noble friend raises an important point. Once again, the use of the Olympic Truce for these sorts of developments has to go through the United Nations, but inevitably we are hoping to build up programmes with other countries. I mentioned the International Inspiration programme, which aims to bring the benefits of sport to 12 million children in 20 countries. We are trying to expand that; it is an ambitious programme but it might be a feasible one.