Historical Social change Motivated by Sports

Peace Building and Unity

Ekecheiria: the Olympic Truce

I was seating for a sports history lecture when I was first introduced to the Olympic Truce. Admittedly I did not comprehend it much at the time because I had an Exercise physiology test that week and my focus was not centered on that lecture. It was only later while studying for the sports history exam that I took time to fully familiarize myself with the Olympic Truce.

Three kings (Iphitos, Cleomenes, and Lycurgus) signed The Olympic truce treaty in ancient Greece in the 9th century BC. During the truce period, the athletes, artists, and their families, as well as ordinary pilgrims, could travel in total safety to participate in or attend the Olympic games and returning afterward to their respective countries [11]. As the opening of the games approached, the sacred truce was proclaimed and announced by citizens of Elis who traveled throughout Greece to pass on the message. There is only one case of the truce being invoked [12]. A very practical example of Sport for Peace.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to revive the ancient concept of the Olympic truce in 1992 and the following year the United Nations general assembly urged member states to observe the Olympic truce at all future games. The IOC undertaking of the Olympic truce extended beyond the period of the Olympic Games and has led to the implementation as a series of “sports for Peace” activities through its national Olympic committees.

1995 Rugby World Cup

Lastly, more events close to home. The history of Apartheid in South Africa is well documented and the racism and discrimination against black South Africans well known. When all these injustices were finally brought to an end in 1994 and Nelson Mandela became the president the nation was left divided and civil war seemed to be inevitable but before that became a reality. South Africa was to host the rugby world cup the following year.

The decision to award the world cup to South Africa was vehemently opposed by many black people in the country at the time, and not just on political grounds [13]. One should Understand that to black South Africans rugby was the sport of the oppressor. It was a symbol of apartheid and everything that was apartheid was to be done with. The Springboks (the national rugby team) therefore were despised as much as apartheid itself.

As history tells, South Africa did host the rugby world cup and the newly democratically elected president, who, if I should add was the first South African black president realized this as an opportunity. He realized an opportunity for Sport for Social Change. While other politicians will pay lip service to sport and understand theoretically its value to them – they lack the intelligence to exploit it the way Mandela did says Carlin, quoted from James Peacocks article “Nelson Mandela: How sport helped to transform a nation”. Mandela had the political genius to transform a symbol of division – the Springbok jersey – into an instrument of unity Carlin expounds [13]. He resisted the pressure to scrap the springbok, the team’s despised emblem, and rallied the nation around the players.

You can imagine the reaction of black South Africans when Mandela asked them to support the “all-white, mostly Afrikaner” rugby team. In one of his speech, while addressing a crowd of supporters with the Springboks cap in hand, he said “You see this cap, this cap shows honor to our boys who are playing France tomorrow. I ask you all to stand behind them tomorrow because they are our pride. They are your pride” [14]. Sources report that he was booed. But Mandela knew that sport was a pivotal factor in him uniting the country and continued to support the springbok.

He visited the Springboks during training and shook their hands, referring to each of them by name to show his support. Through the course of those six weeks, because Mandela asked the nation to support the Springboks and the Springboks played good rugby and built a good momentum toward the final, things happened in South Africa that was just magical, said Francois Pienaar who was captain of the Springbok at the time. The springbok pushed through the tournament, qualified for the finals and played against New Zealand. At this point, they had gained the support of some black South Africans who were present for the finals at Ellis Park stadium on the those who weren’t there cheered from the townships.

Before the game started, as depicted in the Hollywood movie “Invictus”, a South African Airwaves airplane flew over the stadium with a message written on its underside saying “Good luck bokkie” and shortly afterward Mandela walked into the stadium wearing the captains’ springbok jersey and again, shook hands with the team. The supporters in the stadium, dominantly Afrikaners cheered him and shouted his name while waving the new South African flag. 15 – 12 was the final score to New Zealand and when the final whistle blew the country was changed forever. Its incomprehensible said Pinnar.

Similar article: 100 Ways Sport and Recreation Develops Communities.

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Works Cited

[1]     B. Editors, “Billie Jean King Biography,” 2 March 2018. [Online]. Available: www.biography.com/people/billie-Jean-King-9364876. [Accessed 19 May 2018].

[2]     L. Schwaartz, “Billie Jean won for all women,” [Online]. Available: https://espn.com/sportscentury/features/00016060.html. [Accessed 19 May 2018].

[3]     T. e. o. E. Britannica, “Babe Dedrikson Zaharias,” [Online]. Available: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Babe-Didrikson-Zaharias. [Accessed 07 August 2018].

[4]     L. Schwartz, “Didrikson was a woman ahead of her time,” [Online]. Available: https://www.espn.com/sportcentury/features/00014147.html. [Accessed 07 August 2018].

[5]     L. Schwartz, “Jackie Robinson Changed the face of Sports,” [Online]. Available: https://espn.com/sportscetury/features/00016431.html. [Accessed 19 MAy 2018].

[6]     B. Editors, “Jackie Robinson Biography,” 18 January 2018. [Online]. Available: www.biography.com/people/Jackie-Robinson-9460813. [Accessed 19 May 2018].

[7]     L. Schwartz, “An american hero,” [Online]. Available: https://www.espn.com/sportscentury/features/00194717.html. [Accessed 07 August 2018].

[8]     B. Editors, “Jesse Owens Biography,” 18 January 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.biography.com/people/Jesse-Owens-9431142. [Accessed 07 August 2018].

[9]     Readmikenow, “Natalie Du Toit: First Disabled Athlete to Swim in the Olympics,” 09 March 2017. [Online]. Available: https://howtheyplay.com/individual-sports/Natalie-du-Toit-First-Disabled-Athlete-who-Qualified-To-Compete-Against-Able-bodied-Athletes.

[10]     B. Editors, “Oscar Pistorius Biography,” 24 November 2017. [Online]. Available: https://biography.com/people/Oscar-Pistorius-20910935 . [Accessed 08 August 2018].

[11]     IOC, “Olympic Truce,” [Online]. Available: https://www.olympic.org/Olympic-Truce. [Accessed 08 August 2018].

[12]     D. C. Young, “The Olympic Truce,” [Online]. Available: https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Olympic-Truce-1688469. [Accessed 08 August 2018].

[13]     D. Smith, “Francois Pienaar: ‘When the whistle blew, South Africa Changed forever,” 8 December 2013. [Online]. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/nelson-mandela-francois-pienaar-rugby-world-cup. [Accessed 19 May 2018].

[14]     The Real Invictus: How Nelson Mandela united South Africa through sport. [Film]. CBC News: The National, 2013.

[15]     E. A. Wolff, “Sport and Dev Users,” [Online]. Available: https://www.sportanddev.org/eg/user/Eli-wolff. [Accessed 19 May 2018].

[16]     Wharton, “Advocate Eli Wolf the disabled athlete is still Siloed and Segregated,” 19 January 2012. [Online]. Available: kwhs.wharton.aapenn.edu/2012/01/advocate-eli-wolf-the-disabled-athlete-is-still-siloed-and-segregated/. [Accessed 19 May 2018].

[17]     Berkey Centre, “Eli A Wolff,” [Online]. Available: https://Berkleycenter.Geogetown.edu/people/Eli-A-Wolff. [Accessed 19 May 2018].

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Thando W. Dlamini, BA

Sport Development and Exercise Science Practitioner

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