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Olympic spirit needed now more than ever: UN chief

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Secretary-General António Guterres (left) meets with President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The qualities of fair play and solidarity that characterize the Olympics must shine throughout the games and beyond, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message to the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, on Friday. 

The UN chief congratulated the competitors, saying they embody the Olympic spirit of peace, mutual respect, and understanding. 

One human family 

“It is my fervent hope that this spirit goes far beyond these Olympics, to remind everyone – participants and viewers – that we belong to the same human family,” he said.  

“There is no limit to what we can achieve when we work together – for peace, for human rights, and for healthy lives and wellbeing for everyone.”  

Mr. Guterres is in Beijing, where he met on Friday with the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach. 

In remarks following their talks, he underscored that the Olympic message of global unity and solidarity is needed now more than ever. 

Uniting the world 

“In a moment when we see so many expressions of populism, so many expressions of racism, so many expressions of xenophobia, antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred, to be here and to be with athletes that come from all cultures, from all countries, from all ethnicities, from all religions, it’s a fantastic message,” he said. 

The Secretary-General added that competition “does not necessarily mean enmity”, as it can bring countries together to combat COVID-19, climate change, inequality and other global challenges that require more than unity and solidarity. 

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Ahead of the Games, the UN chief invoked the Olympic Truce, a hallowed tradition dating back millennia, appealing to warring sides in Ethiopia to stop fighting. 

“When we see so many conflicts around the world, we see the absolute relevance of having Olympic Games in which all countries are represented, even – unfortunately – some that are in a war situation, to have them all here and to show that peace is possible, that unity is possible and that solidarity is possible,” he said.  

“This fully justifies the strong commitment of the United Nations to support the International Olympic Committee.” 

Some 90 countries are taking part in the Beijing games, which run through 20 February. 

‘Diplomats’ in tracksuits 

The President of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, is also in the city, and ran the Olympic torch relay on Friday. 

Speaking afterwards to journalists, he described the experience as “a great opportunity and great privilege.” 

He said the Olympics represents humanity at its best.

Asked how the values of the IOC and the UN align, Mr. Shahid explained that both are centred around peace.   

The UN was established to maintain international peace and security, he said, while the IOC provides a platform that brings all people together, irrespective of their beliefs and differences. 

“They do wear tracksuits, but they are the diplomats that we want – the young, the energetic, women and men coming together, interacting with each other and providing the energy that we so badly need for the promotion of peace.”  

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