More than Gold

June 15 2012 | by

THE OLYMPICS and the Paralympics are the biggest peace-time event in the world. “To use the power of the Games to inspire lasting change” is a vision which Christians can say ‘amen’ to, says an ecumenical initiative called More Than Gold. Christians, like everyone else, are hoping the Games will engage millions of people across the globe and be a force for good. It will extend the hand of friendship and encourage long-term participation in sport and cultural activity across the UK and elsewhere.

  The Catholic Church is amongst the Church sponsors of More Than Gold, which was set up to help Churches make the most of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games through programmes of outreach, hospitality and service. More Than Gold has the support of all the main denominations and over 60 Christian organisations and agencies. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, joined other Church leaders earlier this year to herald 2012 as a ‘year of celebrations in England’, and to highlight both the Olympic and Paralympics Torch Relays and the 30th Olympiad of the modern era as opportunities for people to gather and celebrate together in ways which will both enhance and deepen community life.


100 Days of Peace

  Peace is historically a root element of the Olympic Games, both in ancient and modern times. Justice and Peace networks and Pax Christi have been promoting peace as a legacy for the London 2012 Games. In Ancient Greece, the Games were preceded by the Sacred Olympic Truce. Proclaimed by heralds many days before the Games, it allowed competitors to travel to Olympia safely through the small, isolated city-states. But could this be applied to the London Games? The 100 Days of Peace initiative grew from the commitment of Christian peace activists, and eventually More Than Gold adopted Peace as one of its social justice strands. The days are counted as 50 days before the Games  – 8 June – and 50 days after – until 28 October 2012. The Games period, 27 July to 9 September, is thus enclosed by 100 Days of Peace. The hierarchies of the three Catholic dioceses where most Olympic events will be held have endorsed the venture, and the Peace Legacy website, has been developed.

  The 100 Days of Peace have been supported by a ‘Ring of Prayer’ around London, with 15 parishes, five from each diocese, hosting the Pax Christi Icon of Peace for one week in the 100 days. A Peace Vigil was held on 8 June at the famous Trafalgar Square church, St. Martin in the Fields, so as to grandstand the theme. But the main work is being done locally, across communities, faiths and generations. For schools of all three dioceses, 100 Days of Peace for schools was launched with a Mass in Westminster Cathedral on 7 October 2011. The message was that the Games offer a genuine possibility of celebrating cooperation and a culture of peace between nations as their young sports people strive for excellence.


Carrying the Torch

  Around 7,300 people will have carried the Olympic flame around the UK in advance of the Games. A number of Christians are among the 115 people a day who have been picked, following public nomination, to carry the flame during its 8,000-mile journey around the UK before arriving at the Olympic Stadium on 27 July. Mark Blythe, who runs a football club for around 120 children in West London on Saturdays, will be carrying the torch for one leg of its journey. Mark says, “my heart is to serve churches and help them reach their communities through sport”. He added that, “I’m honoured to be carrying the flame and I think I’m representing many of those Christians who work behind the scenes for their communities”. But he has a challenge to churches once the Games are over. “It’s not what we do in 2012 that matters, but what we do in 2013 – how the churches use the Olympics to set something up long-term, reaching their communities through sport”.

  The torch relay is expected to be a time when churches really get excited about the Games, with many already having planned community events around it. Making the journey between most of the 70 stops on the route will be an open top ‘Praise Bus’, organised by Escalls Chapel – a Methodist church based near Lands End in Cornwall. The bus is part of More Than Gold’s 70-day cascade of prayer that follows the route of the torch relay, encouraging churches to pray for their communities and the nations. Leading More Than Gold’s response to the torch relay is Sarah-Jane Alley of the Salvation Army. “The Olympic Torch Relay gives churches everywhere a chance to be a part of the Games” she says “and the Praise Bus is a great way to get involved through both worship and hospitality”. 

Greenwash Gold

  The London Olympics, however, have not been without controversy. In April a coalition of pressure groups, supported by Justice and Peace activists, unveiled a new campaign against three controversial sponsors of the London Olympics – Dow Chemical, BP and Rio Tinto – accusing them of using the Games to ‘greenwash’ unethical corporate activities. The three companies were made the subject of short animated films, with members of the public invited to vote online for the ‘worst corporate sponsor of the Olympics’. The company that tops the poll will receive the ‘Greenwash gold medal’ from organisers, who claim that the involvement of the companies is putting the image of the London Games at risk.

  The protest coalition is chaired by Meredith Alexander, who quit as a commissioner of the London 2012 sustainability watchdog over Dow’s $100m (£63m) deal with the International Olympic Committee and its agreement with London organisers to fund the £7m wrap that will surround the stadium. “The modern Olympics was founded here in the UK to promote peace and understanding between the peoples of the world, and Olympic values are all about celebrating our common humanity,” said Alexander. “But the Olympics is also big business, and there is an expensive machine behind the Games that is funded by corporate sponsors”. In her view, “when these sponsors are selected, money talks much more loudly than values”. She said that while London organisers had made some positive moves in trying to encourage ethical suppliers, the International Olympic Committee had been reluctant to use its power to force companies to raise their standards before signing up as sponsors.

Green Olympics

  Dow’s sponsorship has proved controversial with campaigners, who claim it has outstanding liabilities relating to the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India which killed up to 20,000 people and injured tens of thousands more. The company argues it was neither the owner nor operator of Union Carbide, the plant’s owner at the time of the disaster, and that the company had been divested of its Indian assets by the time Dow acquired it in 1999. BP has been targeted by protest groups, including the UK Tar Sands Network, which believe that the extraction of polluting tar sands and the damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster make it “one of the least sustainable companies on Earth”. The coalition suggests that, “BP’s entire business is geared towards keeping the world addicted to fossil fuels and driving us towards uncontrollable climate change”. Rio Tinto is providing the medals for the Olympics using ore from the United States and Mongolia. Protestors from mining areas in both countries complain about air pollution caused by the mines. Cherise Udell, a mother of two from Salt Lake City, who is the founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, said, “I was delighted to learn that the 2012 Olympic committee was aiming for the greenest Olympics ever, but then I heard that Rio Tinto metal from our controversial Utah mine would be used to make the medals”. She reported that, in Utah, Rio Tinto is the number one emitter of toxins known to cause harm to human health. “Every year, between 1000 and 2000 Utahns die prematurely due to chronic air pollution, and Rio Tinto’s Bingham mine is responsible for about 30 percent of this,” she said. All three companies have defended their ethical record and their involvement in the Games.


Role of Armed Forces

  Another controversy has been the central role being allocated to the Armed Forces during the Games in the welcome and victory ceremonies. Pax Christi is one of the Christian groups complaining that engaging armed services in this manner, “could give a militaristic message at what is arguably the greatest of all international gatherings that Britain will host, and might not be conducive to creating a welcoming atmosphere for those attending”. They feel it could also be perceived as insensitive to visitors from countries still experiencing violence and repression, and likewise to those London citizens who are sanctuary-seekers themselves from war-torn countries.

  The citing of missile batteries around London as a ‘security’ measure has also raised hackles. When some residents in east London found out in April that they would have missiles placed on their apartment block roofs to protect the Olympic Games from airborne terrorist attacks they were shocked. Military planners at the Ministry of Defence had decided to fit high-velocity rockets with a range of 5km to several apartment blocks close to the Olympic Park. Then in May, the testing of  Olympic security plans with RAF Typhoon fast jets and military helicopters operating above London, and the arrival of the warship HMS Ocean in the River Thames made Londoners more aware of the ‘security’ aspects that now go along with hosting the modern Olympic Games.

  Yet, despite all the controversies, Christian churches and schools throughout the UK will be holding sports events, ecumenical worship, peace music festivals and planting commemorative trees to celebrate the Games. Even a Peace Trail through London has been produced for visitors. Let the Games commence!


  More Than Gold is an ecumenical project enabling UK churches to engage with the 2012 Games through outreach such as sports camps and hospitality, ranging from chaplaincy work to offering accommodation to athletes and their families. There is a focus on social justice issues that relate to the Olympics such as Peace, Homelessness, Human Trafficking, and Fairtrade. Its website is:



  The song ‘One Hundred Days’ was commissioned to mark linking the theme of peace to the London 2012 Games. Singer-songwriter, Matthew Plant, is Music and Peace Coordinator at St Mary’s RC Primary School, Crewe, in Northern England. The song was written in September 2011 and first performed by his choir. The song can be freely downloaded at:



  Remember the film ‘Chariots of Fire’? It tells stories connected with the 1920 Olympic Games. One competitor who was both an Olympic medallist and later a Nobel peace laureate (1959) was Philip Noel-Baker. A British Labour politician and minister, diplomat, academic, and renowned campaigner for disarmament, Noel-Baker won the silver medal in the 1500 metres in 1920. He later became a Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau and was a co-founder of the World Disarmament Campaign. He startled audiences by saying: “No Olympic Games yet has cost as much as the petrol used by military aeroplanes, in all countries, in one day!”


Updated on October 06 2016