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Tokyo 2020 and the UN

Delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was rescheduled to run from 23 July to 8 August. Despite the circumstances, this Olympics still served as an example of how sports can bring people together.

From the very beginning of the Olympics in the eighth century BC, the ancient Greek tradition of ekecheiria, an Olympic Truce, was an essential concept connecting nations. During this time, there is a ceasefire on all conflicts so that the environment is safe for participants.

“The Olympic Truce is a traditional call to silence the guns while the games proceed,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message. “People and nations can build on this temporary respite to establish lasting ceasefires and find paths towards sustainable peace.”

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proposed states begin observing this truce on the seventh day before the opening and end on the seventh day after the closing. The 1993 UN Resolution, “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic Ideal,” affirmed cooperation between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the UN.

The IOC received Permanent Observer status at the UN in 2009, directly involving itself in UN initiatives by attending UN General Assembly meetings.

In 2015, the IOC created the Équipe olympique des réfugiés (EOR) or the Refugee Olympic Team. First competing in Rio 2016, the team brought global attention to refugee crises around the world. IOC President Thomas Bach said, “The EOR sends a great signal about what an enrichment refugees are for our Olympic community and for society at large.”

The Olympic Refuge Foundation was created in 2017 to support “the protection, development, and empowerment of displaced young people through sport 365 days a year across the globe.” According to the IOC, the Foundation has supported 13 programs in eight countries to empower young people, reaching 200,000 today.

For Tokyo 2020, the IOC provided scholarships to 56 promising athletes from 13 countries to form the team. Ultimately, the team was represented in Tokyo by 29 athletes from 11 countries. As a “team powered by solidarity,” the athletes all gave it their best at their events.

Tokyo 2020 also set an Olympic record for gender equality. The Tokyo games saw 18 new events added by the IOC, so there would be an equal number of women and men per sport. The most gender-balanced games in history had women make up 49% of Olympians.

Certain men’s events, like prone rifle, free pistol and double trap were dropped and replaced by mixed team events—air rifle, air pistol and trap. However, adding women’s events to the games does not necessarily remove opportunities for men. The addition of the 1,500-metre freestyle for women in swimming came hand-in-hand with the addition of the men’s 800-metre freestyle event that stopped in 1904.

The IOC aims to create a space for all athletes to compete. By working in line with the UN, the Olympics can serve as an opportunity for building inclusivity across all communities. Since 2015, the UN General Assembly has recognized sports as an “important enabler” of the SDGs, and that sports are necessary for a healthy society.

As Guterres said in his 2021 video message about the Olympics, “Seeking peace and uniting around common goals is even more important this year, as we strive to end the pandemic and build a strong, sustainable and inclusive global recovery.”

Edited by Ali Shahrukh Pracha


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