The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of U.N. Diplomacy

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of U.N. Diplomacy
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon takes part in the Olympic torch relay in London on July 26, 2012 (Kyodo via AP images).

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Richard Gowan is filling in for Stewart Patrick, who will return Aug. 9.

At the end of this week, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield will be in Tokyo, leading the U.S. delegation at the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics. At first glance, Olympic sports and U.N. committee meetings may not seem to have much in common. But the ambassador may see some parallels between the Games and the political developments in Turtle Bay.

U.N. officials like to praise the Olympics as a model of international cooperation. Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon donned a track suit to help carry the Olympic flame at both the London and Rio Games, in 2012 and 2016 respectively. His successor, Antonio Guterres, has not been to Tokyo. But he has praised the athletes for demonstrating the energy that he would like to see governments bring to talks on climate change and global inequality.

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