I’ve been thinking some about the tragic war going on between Russia, Georgia and South Ossetian forces (by the way, if you want to get a feel for how much of a mess this situation is, read the wikipedia article on South Ossetia — to say the least, Bush’s bellicose speech against Russia is woefully simplistic and uninformed. There are no good guys in this fight, except for the civilian caught in the middle), as well as the Olympics and the fact that the war in South Ossetia started when the Olympics began.
Something is messed up here. During the ancient Olympics, things were quite different.
During the Olympic Games a truce or ekecheiria was observed. Three runners known as spondophoroi were sent from Elis to the various participant cities at each set of games to announce the beginning of the truce. During this period armies were forbidden from entering Olympia, wars were suspended and legal disputes and the use of the death penalty were forbidden. The truce was primarily designed to allow athletes and visitors to travel safely to the games, and was for the most part observed, although Thucydides wrote of a situation where the Spartans were forbidden from attending the games and fined 200,000 drachmas for assaulting the city of Lepreum during the period of the ekechiria, claiming that the truce had not yet taken hold.
So here’s my proposal for future modern Olympics. We need to reinstitute the Ekecheira.
This modern Olympic truce would be simple. All nations participating in the Olympics would pledge to not engage in any military actions for the duration of the games. If any nation breaks the truce, their athletes would be not allowed to compete from the moment the first shot is fired.
What would this mean if we had an Olympic truce in place now? — Russia would be out of the games. Georgia would be out. The USA would be Iraq. Canada would be out. The UK would be out. Iraq would be out (except they aren’t in). Columbia would be out. Any nation engaged in military actions of aggression against anybody would not be allowed to participate.
Now such a truce wouldn’t make the world free of war forever, but it would maybe give the nations of the world a cooling off period every 2 years (for the winter and summer games), which seems like a really good thing to me.