This year marks forty years since the ‘Munich Massacre‘ – when during the 1972 Munich Olympics, Palestinian terrorists disguised as athletes attacked the dormitory housing the Israeli delegation and took Israeli athletes, coaches and officials hostages. By the end of the ordeal, the terrorists had killed eleven Israelis and a German police officer.
For the past four decades, families of the victims have repeatedly sought to persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to incorporate a minute of silence during the opening ceremonies of the games to commemorate the Munich Massacre. However, the IOC has refused to introduce a specific reference to the victims of the Munich massacre citing the negative sentiments of other members of the Olympic community. Alex Gilady, an IOC official, once told BBC News Online:
“We must consider what this could do to other members of the delegations that are hostile to Israel.”
In April this year an online petition was launched to request that the London Olympics hold a minute of silence in memory of the victims at the opening ceremony. The petition received over 20,000 signatures. There was a also promotional video on YouTube, with a heartfelt request from Ankie Spitzer to the IOC, the widow of Andrei Spitzer, an Israeli fencing coach killed in Munich. Spitzer writes in the petition:
“I have no political or religious agenda. Just the hope that my husband and the other men who went to the Olympics in peace, friendship and sportsmanship are given what they deserve…Forty years is long enough to wait.”
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon also wrote an official letter to the IOC requesting the commemoration of the eleven killed athletes, as well as an emphasis on the Olympic principles of equality and brotherhood.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the IOC has again rejected the request to hold a minute silence, and is instead basically sheeting any responsibility for commemorating the massacre back onto Israel. Emmanuelle Moreau, IOC head of media relations, told the Jerusalem Post:
“The IOC has paid tribute to the memory of the athletes who tragically died in Munich in 1972 on several occasions and will continue to do so… However, we do not foresee any commemoration during the opening ceremony of the London Games.”
Moreau added that, “During the period of the games, the Israeli National Olympic Committee traditionally hosts a reception in memory of the victims and the IOC is always strongly represented. London will be no exception.”
In other words, the IOC’s commemoration is that, if Israel holds a commemoration, some IOC members will attend.
Yet morally, the IOC should have an absolute obligation to commemorate the Munich Massacre with every Olympics. Not only because it was a brutal tragedy – the worst in Olympic history – that must be remembered but also because the Olympic Committee was particularly disgraceful in how it responded to the terrorist attack during the Munich games. As Giulio Meotti, an Italian Journalist points out in Israel National News:
“The massacre of the Israeli team is not just a tragedy for the Jewish State or even for the Olympics, but for the entire world. The Olympic Games lost their meaning that day…
The response of the Olympic organizers to the sullying of their games with violence was a series of shameful capitulations to terrorism.
On the day of the attack, the games at first continued, despite the knowledge that two Israelis were dead and nine remained hostage.
When the full tragedy became known, the games were halted for only part of one day. The German government, together with the Committee, rallied under the slogan ‘the Games must go on’.
An order by then German chancellor Willy Brandt to fly the flags at half mast was rescinded after the Arab nations objected.
Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch told Spitzer’s daughter, Anouk, after the 1992 Barcelona games: ‘I promise you at the next Games we will do something to honor the Munich 11’.
A month before the 1996 Atlanta games, she was told that even a moment of silence would break the Olympic rule of ‘never mixing politics with the games’.
By refusing to remember murdered athletes, the Committee is perpetuating a mortal stain on the Olympics as a whole. In London the travesty will continue.”