The following is a guest blog by Deputy Head of Mission Nick Alexander.
Some adjectives have lost their original meaning through overuse. One such adjective is “historic” – now regularly used in the media to describe various events or developments across the globe. But I think it’s fair to describe 27 July 2012 as a genuinely historic day for the United Kingdom – in all senses of the word.
As no-one will have failed to spot, 27 July marked the opening of the 30th Olympiad, the third to be held in London in the modern era. Many hundreds of millions of viewers tuned in to watch the opening ceremony that evening, while 80,000 lucky ticket-holders were in the stadium in Stratford to experience the opening first hand. I was one of those watching the event on television and I must admit to being moved by the sheer imagination, scale and even humour of the event. There is no doubt that some viewers may have been intrigued and perplexed by the various strands of the ceremony. The cultural references may sometimes have been lost on parts of the global audience. But for someone of my generation, growing up in Britain in the 1970s and ‘80s, the ceremony was the best attempt to answer the question: “What does it mean to be British in 2012?”.
The Olympics and Paralympics, of course, are celebrations of sporting excellence. But the ideals of the Games’ founders went beyond sporting competition and fair play: they also drew on the ideals of the Ancient Games in promoting the peaceful resolution of conflict between nations. The ideal is best illustrated in the tradition of the Olympic Truce, which dates back to the 9th century BC. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) revived the tradition in 1992. In October 2011, we succeeded in attracting the support of all 192 states represented in the UN General Assembly for a resolution entitled “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal”.
While the sporting attention may now be focused on the United Kingdom (where The Netherlands have already struck gold!), The Hague has established its more long-standing reputation as the International City of Peace and Justice. And if one building in The Hague symbolises that historical connection more than any other, it is the Peace Palace. The foundations of this magnificent building were just being laid when athletes gathered for the first London Olympics in 1908. So I was particularly pleased to join Deputy Mayor Henk Kool and Steven van Hoogstraten, General Director of the Carnegie Foundation, to raise the flag of the Olympic Truce in a short ceremony at the Palace only a few hours before the Games themselves were officially inaugurated.
Of course, the ideals of the Olympic Truce will not always triumph. For the people of Aleppo, Goma and countless other zones of conflict, they will seem very distant. But the Truce does serve to highlight the countless initiatives, great and small, underway around the world to promote reconciliation and greater mutual understanding. Through his “Walk for Peace” from Mount Olympus to London, Lord Bates single-handedly raised awareness of the Olympic Truce. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its network of Missions has been proud to be part of this global effort. At the grass roots level, our High Commission in Sri Lanka, for example, organised a sports day for disabled civilians and former combatants from both sides in that country’s civil war. At the global level, the FCO threw itself into the negotiation of the global Arms Trade Treaty and is now actively promoting the Foreign Secretary’s initiative to combat sexual violence as weapon of war.
These are very special days for the UK and we are proud to show off the best our country has to offer, both at the Olympic venues and in wider society. Britain’s love of sport and sportsmanship is renowned.
But Britain is also a champion of international justice and dedicated to eradicating conflict across the globe. In a small way last Friday, we were able to celebrate both these facets of our national character in one small event on a very special day. We may not have been able to match Danny Boyle for spectacle. But our vision and commitment to the Olympic ideal is no less genuine.