I am writing to thank you for the countless hours of thought and work of the Tokyo Olympic Committee and the experts from all fields dedicated to the organization and staging of the next Olympic Games. The sweat from your hands and hearts will turn into healing rain, sweeping away doubts and discouragement. I also express my gratitude to the United Nations General Assembly for displaying the United Nations flag alongside the flag of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – a sign of the Olympic truce. It is a wise and courageous decision, because the world today needs peaceful events as urgent as the ancient Peloponnesians in Greece millennia ago.
At the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, I represented the United States in the women’s discus throw. The year before, during the promotional program of the Tokyo Olympic Games Organizing Committee, I visited schools on the main island of Honshu in Japan. The first time I was in Japan, I was curious about the habits of Japanese citizens, most of whom had never met a muscular woman like me in the US Olympic uniform.
The elementary school children were particularly curious about me. In one school, I was answering questions from children and teachers with the help of an interpreter when a little girl grabbed my hand, then my arm, then climbed on my body and pulled my hair. “Your hair is not real, mine is!” she cried, taking a strand of hers and trying to intertwine it with mine. I replied, “Mine is real hair too. We have the same hair, just a little different. We’re just a little different.” The interpreter spoke to her and the teacher, and I nodded that everything was fine and helped her up, but she continued to hold my hand for the rest of the visit.
The ancient Greek term âEkecheiriaâ literally translates to âto hold handsâ. From 776 BC, Ekecheiria was a sacred policy, the cornerstone of the ancient Olympic Games hosted by three city-state rulers of ancient Greece after years of disruptive and destructive warfare between them. The monarchs Iphitos of Elis, Lycurgus of Sparta and Cleisthenes of Athens, after consulting the deity Apollo, decided to prevent the loss of life, farmland, trade and other essential things by creating a sporting event major for the champion athletes of the Peloponnese and for the meetings between the governments of the regions. Athletes were to compete for laurel wreaths and political leaders were to settle grievances through negotiations rather than wars. Ekecheiria was strictly enforced and ensured safety during events, when traveling to and from the games, and at associated meetings.
I myself felt Ekecheiria’s immortality ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Games, in the form of a schoolgirl’s confident grip on the hand of an Olympic stranger.
The Ancient Olympic Games were held every four years for over 1,200 years before being dissolved around AD 939. Similar peace pursuits over the following centuries did not last. But towards the end of the 19th century, French historian Baron Pierre de Coubertin recognized the timeless value of the Olympic Games in education. His tireless advocacy for the restoration of the Olympics gathered supporters in enough countries to stage the first modern Olympics in Greece in 1896 with impressive success. Ekecheiria was not mentioned in the friction-laden Europe, but was personified by near-instant camaraderie between athletes everywhere.
Coubertin’s study of measures to improve life in Greek communities likely raised expectations that fair play could lead to an Olympic truce – and rightly so. The Truce comes naturally from a genuine understanding of what is and is not manageable by you and the other competitors. And that is why in sailing events, more than in any other sport, many near-winners sacrifice their victories to save the lives of other competitors whose ships have capsized. Beyond sport also, during the activities of the Melbourne, Rome, Tokyo, Mexico and Munich games, I learned that whatever their language, people everywhere are mainly concerned with survival, belonging, self-confidence and happiness. And all of these things are achievable through honest analysis if given respectful attention and time. The few weeks of the Olympic truce may not seem like much, but when they are diligently acknowledged by educators and the media, they will find a ground for its fertile seedlings.
At the 1992 Olympics, Ekecheiria persuaded the IOC to allow champion athletes to compete under the Olympic flag as independents. In 1993, the IOC affirmed the Olympic Truce as the most lasting peace agreement in history. This action corresponded perfectly to the efforts of the United Nations and, in 1994, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution entitled âBuilding a better world through sport and the Olympic idealâ.
The Olympic Truce has breathed quietly at each Olympic Games. In the preparations for the 2012 Olympics in London, a member of the British Parliament, Lord Michael Bates, traveled 3,000 miles from Olympia, Greece, London, England, promoting the search for national and international peace. Prior to the 2016 Games, he promoted the Olympic Truce in meetings during a 3,000 km march from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro. Two years later, in 2018, the sacred influence of the Truce shone through in the form of enlightened tranquility between the two Koreas at the PyeongChang Winter Games. There is no doubt that the builders of these now famous examples of the Truce deserve admiration.
But, in all fairness, the world of over 7 billion human beings needs more than admiration. Like famous runners in a grueling competition – when Ron Clarke fell, his rival John Landy returned to help him get up.
This raises the question of what you and I can do for the Truce so that it does not simply remain a noble concept. It materializes through our actions. It can become a part of our mindsets, and although it can sometimes be violated, as we are not saints, it can nonetheless subconsciously play a role in the planning of daily actions. Consider, what is sportsmanship? What is Ekecheiria?
Someone asked me what efforts I had made. Well, my marriage to a great American athlete, a great man, a great teacher was a festival of over 20,000 people in a public square in Prague. Sixteen years later, our divergent sporting and professional interests led to a divorce. But our dedication to peace led us to agree and believe that as we go our separate ways, our children and potentially new partners and their children would hear only words of friendship and encouragement from us.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Truce is observed from July 16, 2021 (seven days before the opening of the Games of the XXXII Olympiad) to September 12 (seven days after the closing of the Paralympic Games).
In the six decades from 1964, Japan managed to meet the demands of the Sapporo and Nagano Winter Games, was put to the test by earthquakes, typhoons, collapses at the power plant nuclear power plant in Fukushima and coped with the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Tokyo’s internet and television relays will allow people around the world to join hands as members of the family of humanity, wherever they are. Even the traditionally silent sumo stables could open their knowledge and training systems to visitors from all over the world.
A call will be launched for the construction of Olympic Peace Parks on all continents, renewing human kinship with the Green Earth on which all biological life depends. Separately in Japan, the folded paper cranes remind us as individuals to reach out to reconciliation and friendship. May these Olympic Games – perhaps the most influential in history – create peace in our hearts and minds.
(By Olga Fikotova-Connolly)
Olga Fikotova-Connolly has competed in the discus throw at five Summer Olympics. She first represented Czechoslovakia in Melbourne 1956, where she won gold. There she met American hammer throw champion Harold Connolly, and their marriage brought her to the United States in 1957. As a member of the American team, she competed in Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964 – where she placed 12th – Mexico City 1968 and Munich 1972. She now resides in Las Vegas, Nevada and works as a certified fitness trainer and freelance writer.