In the early hours of Sept. 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorists broke into the dormitories where Israeli athletes were housed at the Munich Olympics. A wrestling coach and a weightlifter were gunned down as they tried to fend off the intruders, while nine others, taken hostage, would later lose their lives following a tragically bungled rescue attempt by the German authorities.
At the time, a horrified world looked on while the doyens of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) scrambled to salvage Games that many, including the local organizers, wanted to cancel. Nonetheless, while competition was suspended to accommodate a hastily organized memorial service and some athletes did opt to go home, for the most part, it was Olympic business as usual, right up to the closing ceremonies.
Even during the memorial service, then-IOC president Avery Brundage said relatively little about the Israeli athletes themselves, choosing instead to focus on what he considered to be the enduring strengths and resilience of the Olympic movement.
Unfortunately, the perceived insensitivity of the IOC has persisted well beyond Munich. At most Olympics since 1972, request after request to properly honour the slain Israelis has fallen on deaf ears. This Olympic year is no different. So far, appeals to the IOC oligarchy by the Israeli government, the Anti-Defamation League and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives have been summarily rejected. All that’s being asked for is a minute of silence during the opening ceremonies of the upcoming London Olympiad.
But even so minimal a gesture seems to be beyond the IOC’s reach. The formal response from current IOC president Jacques Rogge reflects his organization’s usual pitch that “the IOC has officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on several occasions and will continue to do so in close co-ordination with the National Olympic Committee of Israel.”
Such “co-ordination” presumably refers to commemorations that have been arranged by the Israeli Olympic Committee at private venues during successive Olympiads over the past four decades. Rogge has pledged to attend such a reception at London’s Guildhall during the Games in July.
The IOC’s position on memorializing the Munich Massacre is filled with platitude and inconsistency. What rumbles through, though, is an undercurrent of realpolitik, wherein it’s speculated, at least by the two members of U.S. Congress who wrote to Rogge, that the IOC’s greatest concern is that honouring the dead athletes might “risk alienating countries that have disagreements with Israel.”
It should be remembered that in the immediate aftermath of the Munich killings, 10 Arab nations resisted joining the rest of the Olympic delegations in lowering their flags to half-staff, thus refusing to recognize the Israeli victims. Sadly, not much has changed in 40 years. An IOC that tolerated Arab intransigence then still seems to be appeasing anti-Israel sentiment today.
Maybe when Rogge and his cronies turn up at the Guildhall, they should be told that their token sympathy is no longer acceptable and then shown the door. Surely it’s high time for the IOC to show some moral fibre, even if it’s for just one minute, and at last offer a fitting public tribute to the athletes who were so brutally murdered in Munich.