Liz Wager: Olympic truce

Liz WagerLast week, I had dinner with a member of the House of Lords, but he was wearing shorts and walking boots, not ermine, and I was wearing a sundress and plenty of mosquito repellent. Why might this be of interest to BMJ readers? Well, the Lord in question (Lord Bates of Langbaurgh) is walking 4000 miles from Olympia (in Greece) to London to publicise the Olympic Truce, and I reckon this is something that doctors ought to support.

We met in Croatia (ie former Yugoslavia), which brought home the medical potential of the truce, because one of the few times the truce has been put to good use in modern times was in 1994 (during the Winter Games in Lillehammer), when it enabled medical supplies and vaccinations to be brought into Sarajevo.

The idea of stopping hostilities during the Olympics is as old as the games itself, although it’s been sadly underused in modern times. The UK government, as host to the 2012 event, has agreed to propose a resolution to the UN General Assembly, but for this to become more than just a piece of paper it needs individuals and governments to support the idea and act on it. Michael Bates is calling on healthcare workers to propose practical ways in which the truce could be used, for example by creating a humanitarian window to deliver healthcare to conflict areas.

If you are skeptical of the value of such gestures, think about these words from the Walk for Truce website: “Truce is not weakness, it is power under control. It is strong. It requires proponents to take enormous risks. It is courageous.” You don’t have to be courageous; all you have to do is sign the petition on the website.

Liz Wager PhD is a freelance medical writer, editor, and trainer. She is the current chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

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  • Anthony Papagiannis

    As far as I can remember the Olympic truce had been proposed by the Greek government before the Athens Olympics; it never took off, perhaps because nobody strapped up his boots at the time. I wish Lord Bates every success in his task and more importantly in the cause. Also, from my remote recollection of ancient history, states engaged in war were banned from the ancient Olympics. That might be a wonderful idea for the modern Games, the only snag being that all the major players would probably veto it.

  • Liz Wager

    UPDATE: I understand the resolution will be submitted to the UN on 17th October