- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2012


Let the games begin and let the foolishness end.

Here’s hoping the Opening Ceremony on Friday night starts a better spell for the London Olympics. Because getting into the spirit has been challenging thus far.

Perhaps the difficulty is a natural progression, a byproduct of hyperactive lives in cyberspace, which leaves us “always on.” Slowing down to recognize the Olympics’ unique and special qualities is much harder when everything else all year moves in a round-the-clock blur.

When news from this Olympiad has caught our attention, it’s been for the wrong reasons. We’re at the point where only the torch can spark our dampened attitudes.

One of biggest downers is the International Olympic Committee’s steadfast refusal to commemorate the 1972 Munich Games, where 11 Israeli athletes and a West German policeman were killed by Palestinian terrorists. Widows of the slain athletes met Wednesday with IOC president Jacques Rogge to formally request a minute of silence during the Opening Ceremony.

But just like other attempts by other parties during other Olympics, the widows’ request was rejected. “We feel that the Opening Ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident,” Rogge said at a news conference last week.

He led an impromptu remembrance Monday before about 100 people at the Olympic Village, but that’s not good enough. Neither are the IOC’s plans for a private reception Aug. 6 and a ceremony in Germany on Sept. 5, the anniversary of the attack.

TV viewers can commemorate the massacre Friday if NBC’s Bob Costas carries out his plans for a moment of silence when the Israelis enter Olympic Stadium. Prior to that, Costas can talk about silence of a different sort when the Greek delegation leads the Parade of Nations.

In more depressing news, though less somber, Voula Papachristou became the first athlete banned from the Olympics for a tweet. Greek officials left the 23-year-old triple jumper at home after a crude post that said (translated to English), “So many Africans in Greece, at least West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!”

I’m not a fan of racial jokes, knowing the mindsets they can spawn and harbor. But it’s almost criminal that Papachristou’s years of training were tossed aside so easily. Surely the Hellenic Olympic Committee could have taught her a lesson and punished her in a manner that allowed her to compete.

It’s likely that her political views — messages and retweets that supported a far-right party called Golden Dawn — played a role in her expulsion, too. The Olympics are supposed to be above politics. We know that’s not the case, but it doesn’t have to be demonstrated so blatantly. Participation shouldn’t be based on which party an athlete favors, no matter how much turmoil her country is undergoing.

Speaking of turmoil, the Brits nearly caused an international incident Wednesday night when they displayed the South Korean flag while introducing the North Korean women’s soccer team. Since the countries still are technically at war, the mix-up didn’t sit well with the North Koreans, who considered withdrawing before finally taking the field to play Colombia after a long delay.

I understand that officials have to keep track of 204 countries and mistakes happen. But such an egregious error — confusing a country with its mortal enemy, on the first day of competition — can have a draining effect on one’s enthusiasm going forward. “This should not have happened,” North Korea’s IOC member, Chang Ung, told the Associated Press. “I am really surprised how … the London Olympic team, the protocol people, didn’t invite someone from the team to check if it is your flag.”

With the botched flag, Twitter mishap and Munich flap, these Olympics have stumbled toward the Opening Ceremony. But there have been nine positives. That’s the number of athletes who failed drug tests and were suspended Wednesday.

Please let the Games begin, before we change our minds about them.

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