Imagine that you are watching the London Summer Olympics. As your excitement builds to watch Canada’s athletes compete, you suddenly see the coverage interrupted, as an announcer declares that 11 Canadian Olympians are being held hostage. Instead of watching swimmers dive into the pool, you see people diving for cover as soldiers and police flood into the Athletes Village. As your friends and family gather to watch the unfolding crisis, you learn that two Canadian Olympians were gunned down immediately. And as our nation holds our breath, hoping that the remaining nine athletes will be saved, those hopes and our hearts are shattered when we hear that “all of them are lost.”
Now, imagine that our 11 Canadian Olympians were murdered in cold blood, simply because they were Canadian. Not guilty of any crime, not involved in any conflict, killed only because of where they were born.
And imagine that in 40 years, this crime, the only targeted murder of athletes in Olympic history, was not once acknowledged on the world stage at the Olympics. As a Canadian, how would you feel if, on the 40th anniversary of this tragedy, we asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to hold a moment of silence, and they denied it?
Would you be angry? Would you be outraged?
For the people of Israel, this is not a situation that exists only in the imagination.
In 1972, at the Summer Olympics in Munich Germany, a terrorist group called “Black September,” composed of terrorists from the Palestinian Territories with well-documented links to Neo-Nazi’s, held 11 Israeli athletes hostage, eventually murdering all of them.
Since that terrible day, the IOC has not been accountable to the victims and families of the massacre.
As we have seen, Israel was subjected to other injustices at the Olympic games. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Iranian Sports Minister Mohammad Abbasi stated that “not competing with the Zionist athletes is one of the values and prides of the Iranian athletes and nation.”
It is disappointing that the IOC did not counter these disrespectful actions and statements by holding a moment of silence at the Olympic opening ceremonies.
The pain of the denial of recognition for the 1972 Munich Massacre was clearly felt by Ankie Spitzer, a widow of one of the athletes murdered at Munich.
“Shame on you IOC, because you have forgotten 11 members of the Olympic family,” said Spitzer. “They were killed on Olympic soil and the appropriate place to remember them is at the opening ceremony.”
“You owe it to them.”
“Is the IOC only interested in power and money and politics? Did they forget that they are supposed to promote peace, brotherhood and fair play?” she continued, clearly hurt by the IOC’s refusal to hold a moment of silence.
What makes this situation even more tragic is that the Olympics have the potential to transcend the conflicts that have occurred throughout history.
The Olympics at their best are a moment where the world is brought together, where peaceful competition and a celebration of achievement inspires all of us to reach for our own dreams and believe once again in the power of the human spirit.
It is in this spirit that we acknowledge the fallen Olympians in Munich not only as Israel’s Olympians, but the world’s Olympians. They were brought to Munich by the same spirit which inspires the Olympians of every nation, and by honouring them, we honour ourselves.
The IOC missed an opportunity to do the right thing, but that opportunity will come again at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The IOC would be wise to remember the words of George Santayana:“The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”
The Munich 11 have earned, at the very least, the right to be remembered. If we wish for a future of peace, we must always remember our past.
Let us be confident that in time, the spirit of justice will be renewed, and Israel’s 11 fallen Olympians will no longer be denied their moment of silence.
Spencer Fernando is the Comment Editor of the Manitoban.