The Spiritual Side of the Olympic Games 2004

By Mettanando Bhikkhu, The Buddhist Channel, Nov 5, 2004

Bangkok, Thailand -- Most people could hardly imagine any connection between religion and the Olympic Games, with its grandiose opening, highly commercialized services and advertisements, and humiliating scandals over doping of international athletes, and extremely tight security for the protection of any possible terrorist attack.

For the people of Greece, the homecoming of the XXVIII Olympic Games in Athens is an exceptional event of the century.  When the eyes of the world are turning to Athens after 108 years of the modern Olympic Games, it is the occasion for revival of the long-lost culture of the Olympiad, one among many cultural events which took place coincide with the opening of the Games in Athens is an Inter-religious Conference on ?Religion, Peace and the Olympic Ideal?, which takes place on August 10-11, 2004 at City Hall of the Municipality of Amaroussin, a town in Athens where most facilities of the Olympic Games such as Olympic Village and stadiums are located.

Sixty prominent religious leaders from Judaism, the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, Protestantism, Islam, and Buddhism were selectively invited to join the discussion on three topics of the conference, namely:  1) Religion and the Call for Peace (a theological approach); 2) The Olympic Ideal and the Call for Peace (an anthropological approach); and 3) Religion and the Olympic Games (a communicational approach).

The conference was initiated by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, the leader of the Orthodox Church of Christianity, together with Mr. Panagiotis Tzanikos, the Mayor of the Olympic Municipality of Amaroussion. The primary aim of the conference is to revive the Olympic Ideal of Ancient Olympic Games back to the world which is shaken by the uncertainty of terrorist activities, violence, and injustice.
In his opening speech, H.A.H. the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos addresses the religious importance of the Olympic Games from the beginning, with the Olympic Truce and religious inspiration of the athletes and the citizens of the  Greek world to abandon all violence and war in the event of the game?the heart and soul of the Olympic Games which is almost alien to its modern version of the Game which is de-spiritualized, commercialized and pageantified.

He stresses, ?..throughout the millennium during which the Olympic Games were held, the ancient Greeks constituted neither an integral state nor a confederation of city states existing in peace.  Quite often the city states would be engaged in war, yet when the heralds from Elis announced the impending Games and invited athletes to Olympia, hostilities would promptly cease. The harshness of conflict did not prevent those people from laying down their arms in honour of God?whom they erroneously identified with the person of Zeus or other divinities.  Despite their error they are deserving of praise of the fact that their having realized that the God of all required a truce amongst them in order to accept their worship.  Now that two to three thousand years have elapsed, we who call ourselves progressed compared to them, should not lag behind in our understanding of this simple truth. ?

Amongst the guests of honour to the conference was Reverend Jampel Senge, the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama whose message is supportive of the initiative of the organizers of the conference and further urges religious people to engage in active dialogue with people of other faith traditions in order to dissolve differences as the means to nurture human understanding, respect and trust, essential to the foundation of peace among humankind.

Most of the speeches delivered in the conference support one another which are summarized in the Declaration of the Interreligious Conference of Athens, announced to the media by H.A.H. the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos with the following appeals to the religious leaders:  firstly, to uphold our common human values of liberty, justice, brotherhood, solidarity, and love for peaceful coexistence for all human beings; secondly,  to repudiate violence, terrorism, or crime carried out in the name of religion,  as well as all forms of discrimination based on nationalism, racism, religion.  Further, the declaration addresses to political, intellectual leaders and the media to make positive use of religious institutions, and to support The Education towards Peace; and lastly, to the youth of all religious and cultural traditions to sever as ?peacemakers? for the world. 
Ven. Mettanando was the Special Representative of the Secretary General of WCRP (World Conference on Religions for Peace) to the Interreligious Conference of Athens, Greece, 10-11 August 2004