Thomas Bach, President of International Olympic Committee speaks at the UN. © Getty Images

The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved on Tuesday (118 votes in favor and none against) the call for an Olympic truce for the Paris 2024 Games, but Russia and Syria abstained in protest over Russia's recent exclusion from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The resolution, adopted by 118 votes in favor, none against, and abstentions from Russia and Syria, urges member states to "observe the individual and collective Olympic truce" from seven days before the start of the Olympic Games in Paris (July 26 to August 11, 2024) to seven days after the end of the Paralympics (August 28 to September 8).

The call for an Olympic truce is usually a mere formality in the General Assembly, calling for a cessation of hostilities during the two weeks of the Games. However, it has never coincided in recent decades with two wars of significant global impact, such as those in Ukraine and Gaza.

The Gaza conflict, despite being a central concern for various UN agencies, the Security Council, and the Secretary-General, was scarcely mentioned during Tuesday's General Assembly debate. Only the representative of Egypt brought it up, reminding that discussing an Olympic truce should be seen as a message to Israel to accept a truce without conditions.

However, the Ukraine conflict eventually entered the debates on Tuesday when the Russian representative Maria Zabolotskaya took the floor. She warned that her country, having "always" supported the Olympic truce, would abstain this year in protest against the "illegal exclusion of Russian athletes from international sports competitions."

Zabolotskaya referred to Russia's exclusion on October 5 from the IOC as a sanction for annexing four regions of Ukraine and the ban on its athletes from competing under the Russian flag in Paris 2024, although the IOC left the door open for them to compete on a neutral basis.

This time, Russia only received explicit support from Syria at the time of the vote, while other Russia-allied countries, such as China in many other conflicts, merely called for the despoliticization of the Olympic Games and sports in general.

IOC President Thomas Bach addressed the General Assembly to respond to the Russian representative, stating, "In the Olympic Games, there is no 'Global South' or 'Global North'; we are all equal, and we must be politically neutral and reject all discrimination." 

However, he pointed out that Moscow, by annexing regions of Ukraine, had violated the integrity of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine.

Bach also used the platform to caution against Russia's plan to organize the World Friendship Games from September 15 to 29, 2024, as an alternative to the Paris Olympics, in Moscow and Yekaterinburg, the capital of the Ural Mountains.

Bach argued that such a move would make sports part of political tensions, "lead to the political fragmentation of international sport," and ultimately mean "no more world championships in a fragmented world." 

"The Games are the best embodiment of the power of sport because they spread its values of sharing, tolerance, and respect throughout the world," said Tony Estanguet, organizer of the Paris Olympic Games, speaking at the UN podium.

"They combine the values of sport and the diversity of the world; they are universal," he asserted. "In the current context of conflicts and tensions that we live in, we are more convinced than ever that we need the Games."

Inspired by the ancient Greek tradition of "ekecheiria," which mandated a halt to all hostilities during the ancient Olympic Games, the "Olympic truce" was reintroduced by the UN in 1993 following an initiative by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

Until now, it had always been adopted without a vote every two years, before the Winter and Summer Games. However, this year, Russia demanded a vote on the resolution, considering the absence of a reference to the "principles of legal and non-politicized access" to sports competitions unacceptable.

The Olympics Games “stand as a symbol of tolerance, peace and cooperation among diverse peoples, cultures and nations,” UN General Assembly vice president Mohan Pieris said.

Bach recalled the words two months ago of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that the world is “becoming unhinged.”

“In this fragile world, this Olympic Truce resolution is more relevant than ever,” the IOC leader said, adding “yes, we can come together, even in times of wars and crises.”

His 13-minute speech finished with a request to “give peace a chance,” invoking the John Lennon lyric Bach also used at the opening ceremony in Beijing 20 days before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Also at the UN Tuesday, the Ukrainian delegate repeated that country’s call for all Russian athletes to be banned from the Paris Olympics, and noted Russia also broke the Olympic Truce in 2008 and 2014.

The Belarus delegate explained its “yes” vote was a symbol of “hope that common sense will soon prevail” in Olympic circles.