Now that the Olympics are over, the current diplomatic impasse in building consensus on how to address the on-going conflict in Syria has once again been raised to the fore of the news agenda. The conflict of course never went away but while the world rejoiced in the spirit of peace and unity around ironically the theme of competition in the colours of national identity, there was always the risk of neglect of those still left in the cross-fire. In truth however, there were many who did not forget. And likely many more now who will never be able to forget the consequences of a conflict where increasing images of empty crumbling urban streets draw comparisons with images of battles thought long gone and which inspired the world to unite once before in the spirit of peace to convene the Geneva Conventions,  or the Law of Armed Conflict, to protect the dignity of all those who might ever face the horror of war again.
Majed Aldin Ghazal of Syrian Arab Republic competes in the men
Majed Aldin Ghazal of Syrian Arab Republic competes in the men’s High Jump qualification. Credit:
There is risk too that as humanitarian actors we fear we have failed those we seek to assist at their time of greatest need. When the humanitarian imperative is seen as an ideological whim in the face of such overwhelming adversity that we are dwarfed by the scale of responsibility and all seems lost. Risk of fear or perhaps more pertinently, fear of risk, is not a charge that can be readily made of our partners in the Syrian Arab Red Crescent who have carried the flag and emblem of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, a symbol of neutral independent and impartial humanitarian action, so diligently and above all with such dignity, while the world’s attention has been focussed elsewhere. That is not to say that the Olympic spirit (and of course emblem too) is an outdated concept or an ill-judged notion however. One can only marvel at its power to convene mankind in the spirit of universality at a time of greatest competition and the London Olympics will long be remembered for not only its eccentricity but also its inclusiveness and its recognition of diversity in its many forms. This indeed was embodied in the Olympic flame in all its glory but also in an array of unique and special moments throughout the tournament that reminded us of the unique bonds that unite us all and break down barriers, if only sometimes for a shortwhile. Perhaps the most poignant of these was noted by Matthias Schmale, Under Secretary General of the IFRC, who remarked that hearing John Lennon singing imagine there’s no countries during the closing ceremony made him think it didn’t matter whether Mo Farah ran under a British or a Somali flag……………..he’s not the only one…….imagine….
Written by Colm Byrne, Head of the International Department at the Irish Red Cross