One of the story-lines going into the London Olympics is the refusal of the International Olympic Committee(IOC) to include, in the Olympic Opening Ceremony, any kind of tribute to the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games. Moreover, the IOC has refused for 40 years to include a memorial within the official ceremonies.
To be fair, IOC officials, including current IOC president Jacques Rogge, have participated in various tributes and memorials that have taken place in London and at previous Olympic sites. Many, including myself, do not think this is sufficient.
The reasons given for the refusal have focused on two claims. First, the IOC says it does not want to politicize the games. Second, the IOC says the Opening Ceremony “is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”
On the surface, the first point seems valid. Who wants the games politicized? But, then, that ship has sailed, has it not? The games have long been political. The host countries and politicians use the games for political gamesmanship. This is not new; the Nazis used the games as political propaganda. The IOC itself has used the power of the games for political reasons. Apartheid South Africa was, rightly I think, banned from participating in the games until 1992.
But more to the point, it is simply not a political act to honor and remember Olympic athletes who were killed at the Olympics. As ADL’s Abraham Foxman says: “It is an act of common human decency, not politics, to take a moment to commemorate those who died as Olympic athletes.” The refusal to include in the opening ceremonies a memorial of the Munich Massacre is what seems to be politically motivated. The IOC seems more concerned about how Arab countries would respond to such an official recognition than honoring fallen Olympic athletes. Maybe the IOC fears a boycott by Arab or Muslim countries. Maybe they worry athletes from a country, like say Iran, would refuse to compete against Israeli athletes. (Oh wait! Iran already does this.)
Maybe the issue is just, as Rogge has said, that the Opening Ceremony is not the proper place for a memorial. That would be more convincing if the IOC hadn’t included memorials and tributes in previous opening ceremonies. As Foxman notes in his article, the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 had tributes to the victims of 9/11 and the 2010 Vancouver Games held a moment of silence for the Georgian luger who was killed while practicing prior to the games. It quickly becomes unclear what makes the inclusion of a memorial of the Munich Massacre so inappropriate.
The refusal to honor, in its biggest forum, these slain Israeli athletes and coaches is shameful and hypocritical. This is not about the Israeli-Arab conflict. This is not about giving sanction to either Israelis or Palestinians. It is about honoring athletes who came to participate in the Olympics and sought to embody the spirit and hope of the Olympic movement. What are the Olympics about if not peaceful, fair competition among the best athletes from all over the world? Like all athletes who compete at the Olympics, these were the goals of the Israeli athletes. They were savagely cut down by those who did not wish to seek peace, by those who did not believe in the values of fair play, mutual respect, and justice that underpin the Olympic movement. In shirking a tribute in the Opening Ceremony, the IOC undermines its own commitment to these values.
Foxman makes this point nicely:
The IOC’s failure to commemorate the Munich Massacre on this 40th anniversary would be hypocrisy and politicization enough just looking at these double-standard examples. But the hypocrisy is hugely magnified by virtue of the fact that the Munich terrorist event was by far the greatest assault ever on the Olympics themselves. The cold-blooded murder of Olympians at the hands of Palestinian terrorists completely undermined the competitive spirit of the Olympics, and one would think that the organizers, without prodding, would have long ago seen the need to commemorate this unique event, upholding the deep integrity of the games.
The terror attacks did not end the Munich games in 1972, and have not brought an end to the Olympic movement. Indeed, the Olympics are as strong as ever. Instead of cowardly avoiding a memorial, the IOC ought to embrace this as an opportunity to show how the Olympics have triumphed over hatred and violence.
Nizkor (We Will Remember):
The names of the Israeli athletes and coaches murdered in 1972 at the Munich Olympic Games:
- David Mark Berger.
- Ze’ev Friedman.
- Yossef Gutfreund
- Eliezer Halfin
- Yossef Romano
- Amitzur Shapira
- Kehat Shorr
- Mark Slavin
- Andre Spitzer
- Yakov Springer
- Moshe Weinberg.