A moment of silence is currently creating a clamor. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is resisting a proposal for Friday’s opening ceremonies in London to remember the 11 Israeli athletes killed in Munich 40 years ago by Palestinian terrorists. The committee should reconsider.
The 1972 Munich Olympics were a watershed in the quadrennial games. Politics had long played a role in this international sporting event, but never with such brutality. The fact that the slain athletes were Israelis may play an uncomfortably large role in the IOC’s decision-making, but fear of complaints from Israel’s enemies should not prevent the committee from doing the right thing.
On Monday IOC president Jacques Rogge tried to calm the situation by offering an impromptu memorial to the slain athletes at the Olympic village. “I would like to start today’s ceremony by honoring the memory of 11 Israeli Olympians who shared the ideals and have brought us together in this beautiful Olympic Village,” he said. This did little to dampen the controversy. Ankie Spitzer, widow of Israeli coach Andre Spitzer, shot back, “We asked for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony, not for someone to mumble something in front of a few dozen people.”
President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have both called on the IOC to reverse course. NBC announcer Bob Costas plans his own moment of silence during the network’s coverage of the opening ceremony. He told the Hollywood Reporter that he intends to “note that the IOC denied the request” for a memorial, and plans to say, “Here’s a minute of silence right now.”
There is precedent for this type of observance. At the 1994 Lillehammer winter games there was a minute of silence for the people of the former Olympic city of Sarajevo, then in the grip of a deadly siege. At the closing ceremonies for the 1996 Atlanta games, then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch announced a moment of silence to remember the victims of the Centennial Olympic Park terrorist bombing, as well as the slain Israelis, saying “No act of terrorism has ever destroyed the Olympic movement and none ever will.”
One of the most poignant commemorations came during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. A large, tattered flag that had been unearthed from the rubble of the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was slowly carried around the stadium then raised as the official United States flag for the games. The IOC had tried to block this solemn moment three days earlier. The president of the Salt Lake organizing committee, Mitt Romney, issued a statement saying he “respectfully disagreed” with the decision then demanded a meeting with Mr. Rogge to discuss it. Mr. Romney emerged from the three-hour conference and announced that the flag would appear at the opening of the games.
That same year, Mr. Rogge said, regarding a proposal to honor the victims of the 1972 terrorist attack, “I have no reservations about doing more in the future.” Ten years later it is fair to ask whether the future has arrived.
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