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Champions of Peace: Reflecting on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

August 10, 202112:52 pmSeptember 22, 2023 12:56 pmLeave a Comment

We’ve explored the link between sports and peace before at the museum – we even have an Olympic torch from 2012 in our collection! With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games over, and the Paralympic Games starting soon, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the wonderful moments of peace-making that we’ve seen so far. 

Photography for The Peace Museum, October/November 2016.

While the Olympics are an opportunity to celebrate sporting excellence, they have also always served another purpose: celebrating international co-operation. The International Olympic Committee recognises “building a better and more peaceful world through sport” as key to the Olympic Charter, and highlights the importance of sports in building bridges between nations. In the build up to the Tokyo games, Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, delivered a conference speech in which he said:

“The Olympic Games have throughout their history demonstrated their ability to promote human understanding even where political agreement has proved elusive… When the athletes of all the 206 National Olympic Committees and the IOC Refugee Olympic Team finally come together for the postponed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in 50 days from now, on 23 July, they will send a powerful message from Tokyo to the world: the message of peace, solidarity and resilience.”

Now, many weeks after this speech, we’ve seen the Olympic athletes more than live up to Bach’s expectations. Here are just three of our favourite moments from this year’s Games:

1. Sharing the gold 

The Olympics is often celebrated as the greatest sporting event in the world, and one which promotes friendly competition. This year however, Mutaz Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi showed us that winning is about more than defeating your opponent. 

Having both jumped 2.37 metres in the high jump competition, the athletes from Qatar and Italy decided to share the victory rather than settle the score with a jump off. This is the first time since 1912 that there’s been a joint gold medal in an athletics event at the Olympics. It was an emotional moment between the two friends, and their show of solidarity moved audiences as well. Barshim was quoted saying:

“I look at him, he looks at me, and we know it. We just look at each other and we know, that is it, it is done. There is no need.” 

2. Winning with pride 

Britain has been rooting for Tom Daley to win the gold since he first joined team GB for the Beijing 2008 Games, and this year we finally saw it happen. Perhaps more moving though was the speech Daley gave after his victory:

“I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. When I was younger I didn’t think I’d ever achieve anything because of who I was. To be an Olympic champion now just shows that you can achieve anything.”

In an event where Daley was competing with athletes from countries where homosexuality is illegal, this was a powerful statement to make, and one with the potential to change people’s understanding of what an Olympic champion looks like. He also got a lot of attention for his poolside knitting, and it’s amazing to see him raising money for charity with his homemade jumpers!

3. Raising the flag

The IOC created a Refugee Emergency Fund in 2015 to help integrate refugees around the world into sports, and also invited refugees to compete in their own team for the first time at the Games in Rio. In the 2020 Olympics there were 29 athletes in the Refugee Olympic Team, including one of their flag bearers, Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini. 

At only 23 years old, Yusra has gone from using her swimming skills to guide the boat that carried refugees, including her and her sister, to Lesbos in Greece, to swimming the 100m Butterfly at the Olympics. Having had to leave her home in Syria due to unrest and civil war, she now lives in Hamburg, and is the goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She has said: 

“Representing the Refugee Olympic Team means representing every nation, every continent in the world and it’s a huge honour for me to have done that twice.”

Read about the Olympic items in our collection here: 


Written by Ezra Kingston

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