Widows step up campaign for minute's silence in London for Munich victims
Wednesday, 25 July 2012
July 25 - Two widows today stood in the shadow of London's Olympic Stadium and turned up the pressure on the most powerful man in world sport.
Ilana Romano and Ankie Spitzer (pictured above, left and right) lost their husbands on the same day almost 40 years ago in the darkest episode in Olympic history: the Munich attack by Black September that caused the violent deaths of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.
They have campaigned ever since for a minute's silence to be included in the Olympic Opening Ceremony in honour of those murdered.
Rarely can their campaign have appeared closer to success.
The women were expecting later to hand over to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a petition bearing more than 105,000 signatures – and two lines from John Lennon's Imagine – in support of their cause.
With politicians around the world also lining up to voice their support, the IOC is coming under more and more pressure to give in to the widows' demands.
Yesterday supporters of the campaign summoned international media to this venue on the very edge of the Olympic Park to hear the women tell their stories.
They spoke, one in Hebrew, one in English, with great dignity and undisguised passion.
They didn't mince their words.
Romano, whose husband Yossef was a weightlifter, began by apologising for not preparing a script: "Everything is written on my heart".
"My husband was killed on Olympic soil," she continued.
"In 1972, [International Olympic Committee President] Jacques Rogge was an Olympic athlete and he told me that when he heard about the shootings, he thought it over and decided not to let terror win.
"Jacques Rogge you have let terror win.
"The crack is in the wall; support is rising."
She urged those attending Friday (July 27) night's Opening Ceremony – if there has been no change of heart by the IOC in the meantime – to stand up for a "spontaneous minute's silence" while the IOC President is delivering his address.
Spitzer, whose husband Andre was the fencing coach, spoke just as uncompromisingly as she remembered visiting the scene "just a few hours after the atrocious murder" and looking at "a room full of blood".
"The IOC has been telling us all kinds of lame excuses," she said, summarising the various arguments she said that the body had put to them, beginning at Montreal, the 1976 Summer Games host.
She described how when President Rogge had said to her, in her words, "My hands are tied", she had retorted, "No, it's our husbands' hands that were tied. And their feet as well."
"I think that people on the IOC have forgotten what the Olympic ideal is."
I ask her, given the litany of excuses she claims to have been given, what she thought the real reason for the IOC's reluctance to countenance a minute's silence during the Opening Ceremony was.
I get a depressing response.
"They don't seem to run out of excuses; I have heard them all," she said.
"I think there is only one conclusion...I call it discrimination.
"I think maybe our husbands and sons came from the wrong country...I hope not because that is not what the Olympics is all about."
Up to now, the IOC has made a number of gestures in an attempt to defuse the issue without agreeing to the widows' demands.
On Saturday, while insisting that the Opening Ceremony was "an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident", Rogge said the IOC planned to attend a meeting organised by the National Olympic Committee of Israel and there would be "various IOC delegates present" on the day of the killings, on September 5, at the military airport of Fürstenfeldbruck where many of them happened.
Rogge also held a surprise minute's silence during a visit to the Olympic Village this week for a ceremony promoting the Olympic truce.
But the pressure is mounting.
While there must be legitimate concerns about making the Olympic Opening Ceremony – this week and in future – even juicier a potential target for terrorists than it already is, Spitzer is "hopeful that at last we can close the circle at these Games in London and go home".
Time for that to happen is running out, but you sense that it will get harder and harder for the IOC to resist a campaign that has garnered sympathy on such a wide scale, far beyond the Jewish community and the state of Israel.
The pressure is mounting.
July 2012: No minute's silence for 1972 Munich murder victims at London 2012, confirms Rogge
July 2012: David Gold - A minute's silence should honour victims murdered in Munich 1972 massacre
July 2012: Black September reminds us that the £1 billion London 2012 security budget is worthwhile
July 2012: Coe to hold "personal" memorial for Israeli Munich Olympics victims at London 2012 Opening
May 2012: Exclusive - Israel proposal to honour Munich 1972 murder victims rebuffed by IOC member