Today’s Olympic Games opening ceremony will take place 40 years after 11 athletes who came to compete were murdered in cold blood by terrorists who targeted them because of their nationality.
In February 2010, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge tearfully related to the world that Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili had died in a training accident just prior to the opening of the 2010 Winter Games. During the opening ceremony of the Games, Rogge and other IOC officials led an appropriate minute’s silence in Kumaritashvili’s memory.
With that in mind, it makes Rogge’s absolute refusal to observe a minute’s silence at the London Olympics on behalf of the eleven Israeli athletes murdered during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games even more perplexing. When questioned about his refusal, Rogge has often retorted that a minute’s silence is not in the protocol of the Opening Ceremony at an Olympic Games. Ankie Spitzer, the wife of Andre, one of those murdered 40 years ago, responded to Rogge, saying: “My husband coming home in a coffin was not in the protocol either.”
Moreover, Rogge’s answer is not factually or historically correct. There has been a minute’s silence during a number of previous opening ceremonies at Olympic Games.
No appropriate response has ever been given to the long-standing and sadly long-ignored request by the families to hold an official Olympic commemoration during the games among the family of nations. My official request on behalf of the Israeli Government for such a moment of silence was not rejected; it was ignored in an official response by Rogge who merely noted that there was already a planned commemoration expected during the games.
Rogge was of course referring to an event planned by the Israeli government, with Israel’s Olympic Committee and the local Jewish community.
Over the last couple of months, a moral global movement has grown which is pleading with the IOC to reconsider its position. U.S. President Barack Obama was the latest international voice to support the holding of a minute’s silence, when he joined the requests of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, U.K. Shadow Cabinet Minister for the Olympics and London Tessa Jowell, the London Assembly and parliamentary motions in the U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia, Italy and elsewhere.
Rogge, Coe and others are unfortunately standing firm against the tide of public opinion which calls on the IOC to rectify an historic injustice. While some have argued that the request is political and thus can not be part of the deliberations of the IOC, nothing could be further from the truth.
The terrorist outrage which claimed the lives of 11 Israeli athletes was the darkest moment in Olympic history. These 11 athletes were part of the Olympic family, they were not accidental tourists, and they were competing in the games under the aegis and the full protection of the IOC. They were taken hostage and slain in the Olympic Village in full view of the entire world. They deserve remembrance in full view of the international community and the family of nations.
Last week, we were reminded that Israelis remain a target for terror in every corner of the world when five young Israeli tourists were killed in a suicide bombing in Bulgaria. This has prompted MI5 and Scotland Yard to reassess their threat assessment against the Israeli delegation to the London Olympics. To these terrorists, it does not matter whether Israelis are tourists or athletes, men or women, young or old; they remain a legitimate target for murder.
The IOC can send a message loud and clear to those who wish to target the Olympics and the competing athletes regardless of their nationality, that this is unacceptable. A clear message should be sent that we must not forget the terrible events of Munich forty years ago so they will not be repeated.
The slogan for the London Olympic Games is “Inspire a Generation”. For this generation to be truly inspired, we have to provide for a better future, while adequately bequeathing a reminder of the past. The history of the Olympic Games must always be remembered, enshrining both the good memories as well as the bad.
Perhaps the darkest chapter in modern Olympic Games’ history is the moment when eleven Israelis, who came to compete in the greatest global sporting event, were murdered simply because of their nationality. We must remain vigilant against acts of hatred and intolerance that stand in contrast to the ideals of the international Olympics.
I join the families of those murdered forty years ago in making one last heartfelt plea to the IOC to reconsider their decision, not for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of the very moral and ethical foundations on which the IOC proudly stands.
Danny Ayalon is Israel's deputy foreign minister.