Shamefully, IOC can't spare a minute to mark 1972 Munich terrorism

The International Olympic Committee says the opening ceremony of the London Games isn't a 'fit' setting to mark deaths of 11 Israeli athletes. Those who disagree will defiantly stand as IOC chief Jacques Rogge speaks.

July 25, 2012|Bill Plaschke

LONDON — They're not asking for much, these two elderly women who lost their husbands to the worst crime in Olympic history.

They're not asking for a speech or a video or even a prayer to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Games.

They're asking for a single minute. One minute. One breath of silence at these London Games' opening ceremony. One brief remembrance of the lives that were lost on a day when terror triumphed over sport. One short but jarring condemnation of that terror.

Why can't the International Olympic Committee just give them that one minute?

"Jacques Rogge, you have let terror win today," said Illana Romano, the widow of slain Israeli weightlifter Yossef Romano.

Romano was speaking Wednesday at a London news conference that should never have been held. She was joined by Ankie Spitzer, wife of slain fencing coach Andrei Spitzer, in a sad plea for a bit of human decency that should have long since been granted.

Rogge is president of an International Olympic Committee that steadfastly has refused to allow the memory of the massacred Munich 11 to be part of the opening ceremony. Not once since that September day in 1972 has the IOC given the massacre's survivors the honor or comfort of even one second of solemnity during the important and symbolic opening night.

After four decades, two widows have been sadly reduced to begging for it.

The athletes, pleaded Spitzer, "were killed at an Olympic venue. They should be honored there."

Armed with a petition containing more than 100,000 signatures, backed by support from worldwide leaders including President Obama, the two women showed up in London with one last desperate plan.

"If you believe that the 11 murdered athletes must be mentioned, stand for a spontaneous minute when the IOC president begins to speak," Romano said.

She has also asked the broadcast media to follow Bob Costas, the NBC announcer who has stated he will stage his own minute of silence when the Israeli team marches into the Olympic Stadium during the broadcast. That minute has not yet been endorsed by a network with a billion reasons not to upset the IOC, but at least Costas is trying.

"Silence your microphones for a minute in memory of our loved ones and to condemn terrorism," Romano said.

I'll be standing. I'll be silent. And for that entire minute, I'll be noting the shame that will surround Rogge as he speaks of the Olympic spirit while clearly violating it.

Why can't the IOC just give them that one minute? It's politics, of course. There is no outfit more political than the IOC, backroom deal makers in altruistic clothing. Their Olympic vision has become as much about money and power as fairness and competition..

Simply, and disgracefully, the IOC won't honor the fallen Israeli athletes at the opening ceremony because they don't want to anger the nearly 50 Arab and predominantly Muslim countries that are also competing in the Games.

Rogge said the opening ceremony is "an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident."

So the atmosphere where one is murdered is not fit for the memory of those murders? As usual, the IOC's arrogance is tone-deaf to the point of being laughable.

This week Rogge suddenly asked for a moment of silence for the fallen Olympians during an appearance at the Olympic village. It was neither planned nor televised nor heard by more than a smattering of officials. It was lame and pandering and did not satisfy the widows, who called it "'shameful."

The 11 athletes were killed by the Palestinian group Black September because they were Israeli. At least one U.S. politician said in a conference call Wednesday that they are not being memorialized for the same reason.

"This is politics; they're afraid of offending Arab nations," said U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y), whose constituents include the Rockland Jewish Community Center, which spearheaded the petition. "The only reason they haven't done this in 40 years is because it's Israeli athletes.… If this had happened to athletes of any other country but Israel, there would have been this minute of silence years ago."

At the very least, the IOC has been inconsistent on this issue. As recently as 2002, the 9/11 flag was paraded into the Salt Lake City opening ceremony to honor those terrorism victims.

"The IOC says it's too political to honor the Israelis, but it's quite the opposite," said Engel, who has communicated with Rogge about the issue. "It's political not to have the moment of silence. It's a matter of decency."

Perhaps nothing has been more indecent than the reported recent exchange between Spitzer and Rogge, who told her that in this matter, his hands were tied.

"Your hands are tied?" Spitzer reportedly replied. "My husband's hands were tied. So were his feet."

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