After 40 Years, It's Time to Commemorate Munich

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by: Abraham H. Foxman | July 25, 2012

This Friday in London, the 2012 Summer Olympic Games will get underway with all the usual pageantry and grand references to the history of this most famous and ancient of athletic competitions.

One chapter of Olympics history that the International Olympic Committee has ensured will not be mentioned during the opening ceremonies is the Munich Massacre – the brutal terrorist murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games. For 40 years Olympic officials have ignored or rebuffed efforts to memorialize this horrific event.

We can't allow the Olympics to be "politicized," IOC officials have said over and over again. But in what way is Olympians commemorating fellow slain athletes who were murdered at the Olympics a political gesture?

It is long past time to debate these points.

At a memorial service held on September 6, 1972 at the Munich Olympic Stadium, then-IOC President Avery Brundage famously said, "The games must go on." Since 1972, IOC officials have continued to justify their refusal to commemorate the Munich Massacre as a principled stance against the politicization of the games.

And yet this "principle" seemingly did not apply to the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, which rightfully included numerous references and tributes to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

When catastrophe struck the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games with the tragic death of Georgian luge slider Nodar Kumaritashvili during a practice run, the IOC appropriately honored his memory during the opening ceremonies with a moment of silence and by flying the Georgian and Olympic flags at half-staff, undoubtedly a fitting tribute to a lost Olympian.

In 1973, Ankie Spitzer, the wife of murdered Israel fencing coach, Andrei Spitzer, wrote the IOC respectfully requesting that the Munich 11 be remembered at the upcoming Montreal Olympics. She never received a reply. Since then, Ms. Spitzer and other victim's families have continued to write, calling for an official recognition and moment of silence to remember. Yet, from Montreal, Moscow, Los Angeles and Seoul, to Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing, the only commemorations organized have been done so by the Israeli Olympic Committee and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

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.

In recent months, the chorus of those calling for the Munich 11 to be properly memorialized has grown louder. Various influential leaders and governments -- including President Barack Obama, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, legendary sports broadcaster Bob Costas, the U.S. Senate, Germany, Canada and Australia – have all come out in support of a moment of silence, and more than 100,000 people around the world have signed petitions in support of this effort.

While IOC officials have attended Israeli-organized memorial events over the past decades, and have pledged to send high-level delegations to an August 6 event in London and September 5 event in Munich, they can no longer hide behind their refusal to memorialize the Munich Massacre during the opening ceremonies as a principled stance against politics.

It is, in fact, just the opposite. It is an act of common human decency, not politics, to take a moment to commemorate those who died as Olympic athletes.

This past Monday, perhaps due to growing pressure, IOC President Jacques Rogge did hold a moment of silence for the Israeli athletes at the Olympic Village. Yet only about 100 people were in attendance, and no advance notice was given. Rogge explained that "It's absolutely normal I should call for a remembrance of the Israeli athletes." This is indeed true, though Rogge got the venue very, very wrong. The time has come for the IOC to right their 40 years of indifference to the victims of the Munich Massacre, and properly honor their memory with a moment of silence during Friday's opening Olympic ceremonies.

If not, the truth will be plainly obvious -- the IOC doesn't want to honor the memory of the dead athletes because they had the "misfortune" of not being French, Swiss or Georgian; they were Israelis, and therefore are being held to a different standard.

We fervently hope to be proven wrong.

We can't allow the Olympics to be "politicized," IOC officials have said over and over again. But in what way is Olympians commemorating fellow slain athletes who were murdered at the Olympics a political gesture?