David Gold: A minute's silence should honour victims murdered in Munich 1972 massacre
Wednesday, 18 July 2012
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been consistent in its rejection of an attempt by campaigners to have a minute's silence during the Opening Ceremony of London 2012 for the Israeli athletes.
Ankie Spitzer, wife of Andre, one of the 11 and a fencing coach, has bravely taken on the IOC in a bid to have the memory of her husband and his colleagues honoured at the Opening Ceremony of London 2012.
The IOC though, are happy with what they do already. In fairness, they do have a permanent memorial in the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, whilst the IOC President always attends an event held by the Israeli Olympic Committee at each Games.
But why not have a minute's silence? What is everyone so scared of? As the Israeli member of the IOC, Alex Gilady has previously told the BBC "We must consider what this could do to other members of the delegations that are hostile to Israel".
No-one wants to say it because it's always easier to skirt around difficult political issues than address them directly, but that is basically the tactful and diplomatic way of avoiding saying "It brings up the issue of Israel-Palestine".
But this has absolutely nothing to do with that conflict or politics whatsoever. Or perhaps more pertinently, for those calling for a minute's silence it has nothing to do with politics. One suspects those opposing it have political interests very much at the front of their minds.
And who exactly would object to such a memorial?
It is certainly not Britain, nor the United States, Germany, Belgium and Australia, all of whom have supported the campaign. Neither would Italy, where 140 Parliamentarians this week signed a letter calling for the gesture. Probably not Jordan either, whose then King Hussein denounced the murders as a "savage crime against civilization". The leader of one of the only two Arab nations who recognise Israel's right to exist, he was also the only leader of another country in the region to condemn the attacks.
Those objecting probably include Iran, whose athletes are ordered not to compete against Israelis, flagrantly ignoring the spirit of the Olympics. And it may also include some of the 10 Arab nations who refused to fly their flags at half-mast like all the other countries at the memorial in Munich following the tragedy.
But this should not be about Israel. It should be about 11 athletes who were in Munich to compete in a sport they loved and in doing so promote the Olympic ideals. Those countries who did not lower their flags in Munich betrayed those values.
As Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, has put it: "The IOC is treating this as an internal Israeli matter but [the massacre] is of concern to the whole Olympic Family, it was an onslaught on the whole Olympic ideal. But perhaps [the IOC] thinks anything to do with Israel is controversial. It is not a display of great courage and integrity."
Palmor is right. Sure, it is probable certain countries will be offended by the memorial, prompting the protests about the importance of the Movement's unity. Yet the participation of a Syrian showjumper who shows no concern that his country's leadership is murdering innocent civilians it is meant to protect does not threaten such unity?
And any country taking offence to a memorial for 11 representatives of the Israeli team which went to Munich and were callously murdered for no other reason than their nationality cannot possibly claim with a straight face that their values are really aligned with those of the Olympic Movement. Is this what Baron Pierre de Coubertin envisaged? For a memorial for murdered athletes to be blocked by politics? The terrorists who murdered those athletes in 1972 were attacking the ancient Olympic concept of putting aside conflict to come together and compete in a sporting arena. The minute's silence would be a perfect way for the Olympic Movement to stick two fingers up at those terrorists and stand up for its values. Instead, it is passively shrugging its shoulders at that offer.
This is nothing short of wilful or ignorant cowardice, and it is all the more tragic considering the bravery of the slain. After the Black September group scaled the fence of the Olympic Village in Munich, the Israeli wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, facing armed terrorists, fought back. He was shot in the cheek for his troubles. When forced to help them find his compatriots, he lied about where some were residing. He led them to where the Israeli weightlifters and wrestlers were staying instead in the hope that with their strength they could fend off the terrorists. When that plan failed, the injured Weinberg again fought back, knocking a terrorist unconscious and allowing a wrestler to run to safety. His bravery cost him his life. And yet we cannot find a minute's silence for him and the other 11 victims? Really?
Guri, Weinberg's son, put it best. "We want a moment of silence for 11 athletes who were part of the Olympic Family the IOC always talks and talks about," he said. "We do not want it for 11 Israelis or 11 Jews or 11 politicians. Just athletes."
It just needs one minute. There are 40 pages in the Host City contract for the Games with all kinds of stipulations. A minute's silence will not be difficult to enforce. And besides, so what if some countries object and threaten the Olympic unity? What exactly will they do: boycott the Games, withdraw from the Olympic Family? If that is their reaction, then good riddance to them – they will not be missed. Those opposed to the minute's silence have clearly missed the point of the most important three words in this whole debate - excellence, friendship and respect.
David Gold is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here.