Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

06 July 2010

Sport & Peace



What power does sport really have to increase international understanding and to promote peace? I ask this having just read Theodore Cook’s ‘The Olympic Games’ which was published in 1908 and which looks back on the events of the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. In his preface to the book, Cook, who was one of the British representatives at the IOC on behalf of the British Olympic Council, mentions the truce between the warring Greek states which prevailed during the period of each of the ancient Games. For Cook, a sportsman and an aesthete in the old tradition, this was one of the most significant justifications for resurrecting the Olympics, and he reflects that “of all the influences now at work to stay the cruel hand of war, who shall say that any single one is more potent in its effects than the increase of international athleticism which is the most significant factor in the intercourse of modern nations?” Knowing what we know about the rapidly approaching cataclysm of 1914-18 (one of the minor results of which was the cancellation of the Games scheduled to take place in Germany in 1916), his remarks seem all the more poignant.


The concept of a truce brokered by sport is something which is resonating more and more with modern commentators. The IOC now has observer status at the UN, and one of the latest UN agencies to be set up: the United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace, sees sport not only as a powerful tool for international understanding, but also as a basic human right which empowers the individual. That empowerment transforms sport into a ‘low cost, and high impact tool’ for development (click on ‘Resource Centre’ for lots of full text content).  


The UN’s Inter-Agency Task Force - which was set up in 2002 to review activities involving sport within the UN system - concluded that “well-designed sport-based initiatives are practical and cost-effective tools to achieve development and peace objectives…sport is a powerful vehicle that should be increasingly considered by the UN as complementary to existing activities”.


I find this really exciting and encouraging, because it seems totally do-able.


International Olympic Truce centre


Theodore Andrea Cook


The Olympic Games: being a short history of the Olympic movement from 1896 up to the present day…

London: Constable, 1908

London reference collections shelfmark 7907.ff.57





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