World Peace in 2024? The Olympics Has a Plan but Not Much Hope.

The president of the International Olympic Committee strode to the podium this week inside the gold-hued assembly hall of the United Nations and proceeded to paint a bleak picture of the world outside.

Society was on a “downward spiral,” the president, Thomas Bach, suggested. He had never before seen so much “confrontation, division and polarization.” He rued the rising “scourge of war and violence.”

Then, as diplomats elsewhere in the building discussed prisoner swaps in Gaza and as soldiers continued to die in the muddy fields of eastern Ukraine, Mr. Bach offered what he saw as a salve: the Olympic truce. The resolution, revived every two years by Olympic leaders and adopted enthusiastically by the U.N. member nations, optimistically calls for the cessation of violence worldwide during the weeks of the Olympic Games, the next version of which will open in July in France.

“In these difficult times,” Mr. Bach said on Tuesday, “this resolution is our opportunity to send an unequivocal signal to the world: Yes, we can come together, even in times of wars and crises. Yes, we can join hands and work together for a better future.”

The resolution passed overwhelmingly. Hands were shaken. Backs were slapped. But will the belligerent factions of the world feel moved to lay down their arms next summer in a collective display of sports-induced amity?

Best not to hold your breath.

Inspecting the damage to destroyed homes in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, on Saturday.Credit…Yousef Masoud for The New York Times

The Olympic truce, rooted in the traditions of ancient Greece and reimagined three decades ago for the modern Games, has become as much a part of the ritual prelude to the events as the lighting of the torch and the scramble for hotel rooms. But despite its heady rhetoric, it is largely symbolic, essentially nonbinding and consistently ignored.

Idealists nonetheless view the biennial resolution as a hopeful gesture promoting global harmony through the universal language of athletic competition. But in recent years especially, the truce has engendered an equal measure of scoffing from those who point out the disconnect between its lofty conceptions and the harsh realities of the geopolitical landscape.

“It’s a lot of good words that mean absolutely nothing, with no implementation,” said David Wallechinsky, a founding member of the International Society of Olympic Historians. “What’s the point?”

The point, in ancient times, was straightforward: Under the truce, rival city-states would voluntarily pause their wars to allow athletes safe passage to Olympia.

The International Olympic Committee resurrected and modernized the concept before the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, and the United Nations adopted it as an official resolution at the same time, urging countries to observe the truce from seven days before the competition began to seven days after it concluded. Every two years since then, a resolution has been drafted by the host nation, always carrying the same anodyne title: “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal.”

Ukrainian soldiers moving shells on the front line in the region of Kupiansk, eastern Ukraine, this month. Russia invaded Ukraine only days after the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, violating the Olympic truce.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The I.O.C.’s member nations — a constituency that broadly mirrors the U.N.’s membership — have never seemed overly concerned about adhering to the truce, however, and the organization has rarely made a fuss about apparent infractions.

The United States’ lengthy interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance, spanned multiple Games without earning much rebuke from the Olympic committee. So have long-running conflicts in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

More recently, Russia has become the truce’s primary scofflaw, developing an uncanny habit for invading countries during or just after the Olympic Games — in 2008 (Georgia), 2014 (Ukraine) and 2022 (Ukraine, again).

The Paris Games next year will most likely unfold against the backdrop of two prominent wars, with the conflict between Russia and Ukraine settling into stalemate and the one between Israel and Hamas raising fears of a broader regional conflict.

“At this point in the world, there are a couple of very unpleasant things, among many other unpleasant things, that are going on, and the Olympic Games will not stop them,” said J. Simon Rofe, an associate professor at the University of Leeds whose work focuses on sports diplomacy. “But they could provide a moment of focus for us to think about them and, at the same time, to provide some light relief.”

The messiness of actually trying to enforce the terms of the truce has been on display since last year, when Russian troops invaded Ukraine days after the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. That act, finally, provoked the first official response to an apparent violation of the Olympic truce.

On the day of the invasion, Olympic leaders condemned Russia for breaching the resolution. Over the days and weeks that followed, the I.O.C. called on all international sports organizations to bar athletes from Russia and from its ally Belarus from competitions; stripped Russia’s president of its highest honor; and, under pressure from other countries, ejected Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Paralympic Games.

Last month, the committee reiterated that Russia and Belarus were still barred for violating the truce. But it also noted that the organization had carved out an exception allowing individual athletes from those countries to attempt to qualify for the Olympics as neutral, unaffiliated competitors.

MacIntosh Ross, an assistant professor at Western University in Ontario who has researched human rights and the Games, said he thought that fence-sitting was evidence of the contradiction between the Olympics’ lofty rhetoric about peace and its unwillingness to confront those who violate the truce.

The Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994. The Olympic truce, a feature of the ancient Games in Greece, was resurrected and modernized before the Lillehammer edition.Credit…Amy Sancetta/Associated Press

“It’s the I.O.C. leveraging their power to maintain the status quo at the Olympics,” Mr. Ross said, “the rest of sport be damned.”

Mr. Bach, who has held the committee presidency since 2013, regularly laments moments when international politics, as he defines them, have encroached on the Olympic truce and the Games at large. But these encroachments only seem to be multiplying.

Before the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, for example, the United States conspicuously joined a handful of countries that declined to co-sponsor the truce resolution drafted by China. And on Tuesday, Russia, voicing displeasure about its general treatment by Olympic officials, called for an unusual vote on the measure, which is normally adopted by acclamation.

The room at times grew tense. The representative from Russia accused the Olympic committee of inconsistency and hypocrisy. The Syrian representative joined others in highlighting the hardships of Palestinian athletes. The representative from France scolded Russia for having “politicized” the discussion.

In the end, 118 member nations, including Belarus, voted in favor of the resolution. Russia and Syria abstained.

“There is no way to separate sports and politics,” said Ashleigh Huffman, former chief of sports diplomacy for the U.S. State Department. While pointing out that the traditional truce ultimately “lacked teeth,” she said that it could nevertheless serve as “an important conversation starter that gives us a framework to aspire to.”

Mr. Bach would seem to agree. In his address in the cavernous assembly hall on Tuesday, he acknowledged that the truce resolution was “our modest contribution to peace.” But he also suggested that people around the world “were exhausted and tired of all the antagonism, the hostility, the hate and bigotry that they are confronted with, day in and day out, in every area of their lives.”

It was a heavy image. If only, he implied, the world would listen to the I.O.C.

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