POSTED: July 23rd 2012

JOHN GOODBODY: It is inappropriate to honour the murdered Israelis of 1972 with a minute of silence

The Games open in London in 4 days / LOCOG
The Games open in London in 4 days / LOCOG

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July 23 - I am a Jew. In 1969, I represented  Britain in the Maccabiah Games in Tel-Aviv. Among the other competitors that year were swimmer Mark Spitz and also a number of Israeli weightlifters and wrestlers. Three years later, I was in Munich, as a journalist, to report on Spitz taking seven gold medals and also on the killing of 11 of those weightlifters, wrestlers and officials by Palestinian terrorists.

I didn’t personally know any of those who were killed but I have often thought of them, especially when I have subsequently been to Munich, on the last occasion even staying in the hotel in the former Olympic Village, just a few hundred metres from the block where the Israelis were seized and later massacred.

That event remains the worst moment in Olympic history, desecrating a sporting occasion, and for the relatives of the dead and the surviving members of the Israeli team it has been a constant memory. For other people, it has faded or,for many younger people, it is something  of which they are possibly not even aware.

Forty years on, there has been a campaign to remember those, whose lives were cut short when many of them were so young. It has been proposed that there should be a minute’s silence at the Opening Ceremony of the London Games on Friday to honour the dead. Such a move has gathered more than 100,000 signatures and the support of the President Barack Obama, the US House of Representatives and also the Senate, the German and Canadian governments and also, more predictably, the Israeli Government.

On September 5, there is already scheduled a ceremony at Furstenfeldbruck Airport in Munich, where most of the athletes and also the terrorists were killed in a bungled operation by the German police. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will be sending representatives.

Dr.Jacques Rogge, the IOC President, has turned down the idea of commemorating the event during the Opening Ceremony. He may well consider that this would inflame the already tense situation of having Israeli and Arab countries competing at the Games. In 2004, Arash Miresmaeili, the world featherweight champion from Iran, was deliberately overweight at the weigh-in, rather than fight an Israeli in his first contest. Dr. Rogge made it clear in London last Saturday that such withdrawals for political reasons were contrary to the Olympic Charter.

Clearly, if the demand for the minute’s silence were met, there might be representations from Arab groups that the Palestinian terrorists should also be honoured.  Once the IOC makes this concession for the minute’s silence for the Israelis, it is also opening the door for other historical events to be remembered.

It is significant that Alex Gilady, the IOC member in Israel, has not supported the call believing that the important thing at the moment is for Israel to have a place in international sport. The country was ejected from the Asian Olympic Association in 1981 because of the overwhelming opposition from Arab countries and fortunately managed to find a home in the European sporting family.

 The IOC has already commemorated the murder of the Israelis, having a moving ceremony in the main stadium on September 6, the day after the killings in 1972.

Dr. Rogge said in London last Saturday:”We feel the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”

Opening ceremonies are meant to be joyous occasions and a minute’s silence would surely be inappropriate. The mood would be wrong. It is far better to honour the dead in Munich on September 5th.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · John Goodbody · IOC · Munich '72 · Jacques Rogge

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