Home / 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies: IOC Ignores 40th Anniversary of Munich Massacre

2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies: IOC Ignores 40th Anniversary of Munich Massacre

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“We feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident,” commented nbsp;International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge& last week. He was trying to explain why, in the face of international protest, the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Olympic Village massacre would not be acknowledged during the Opening Ceremonies. His explanation was rendered a complete lie, made absolutely clear after yesterday’s otherwise-wonderful Opening Ceremonies.

There were, in fact, two moments of silence during the event, both deserved, both resonant. The first honored the war dead from all nations within the context of a poppy-filled representation of Flanders Field, where so many British soldiers died during World War I. The second acknowledged the victims of the July 7, 2005 London Bombing, which took place a day after the city received word that it would host the 2012 Summer Olympics. But it is ironic and absurd (but not in any comedic way) that the 1972 massacre was ignored at the behest of the IOC. Of all tragedies acknowledged over all the years of Olympic Opening Ceremonies, this one should have been the most personal and resonant to Olympians no matter their national affiliation. 

During the 1972 Munich Games, the Black September terrorist group massacred 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team after abducting them from the Olympic Village. And as it so happened, the 40 anniversary coincides with an Olympic year. Remembering it would have been so very appropriate, and right.

There were other off-site memorials and there will be another in Munich this September. But,  I have to wonder (and I’m not the paranoid sort, believe me) what sort of acknowledgement there might have been last night had those athletes and coaches in 1972 been British, or American, or Nicaraguan, or (dare I say) athletes from Rogge’s native Belgium.

The IOC president steadfastly refused to allow this specifically-Olympic tragedy to be remembered during the ceremony solely because these were Israeli athletes. There is no other explanation. Full stop. For all that the Olympics means in the context of history, and mission of the games, this was a bewildering act of cowardice. Count Rogge should be ashamed, as should the entire IOC.

NBC, which broadcast the ceremonies to an estimated audience of nearly 35 million, should be proud, however, of commentator Bob Costas, who put Rogge and the IOC to shame as the 39-member Israeli Olympic team made its entrance into the Parade of Nations. There is much to criticize about NBC’s opening ceremonies, but arguably, Costas provided the broadcast’s finest moment.

“These games mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 tragedy in Munich, when 11 Israeli coaches and athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists,” Costas remarked as the 39-member Israeli Olympic team entered. “There have been calls from a number of quarters for the IOC to acknowledge that, with a moment of silence at some point in tonight’s ceremony. The IOC denied that request, noting it had honored the victims on other occasions. And, in fact, this week Jacques Rogge led a moment of silence before about 100 people in the athlete’s village. Still, for many, tonight, with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost, and how and why they died.”

Costas’ comments were followed by a 12-second silence (very, very long in television time), before cutting away to commercial. It was simple, and something Costas was not obligated to do, yet his gesture was everything Rogge’s shameful cowardice was not.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Barbara Barnett

    Glenn, I did just that in my review of nbc’s coverage

  • Igor

    If the IOC were wise enough to adopt Igors Olympic rules we’d eliminate all the divisive and destructive actions resulting from invidious comparisons:

    1-all competitors wear simple white athletic outfits with no national or commercial advertising.

    2-competitors are not organized by country or commercial backers.

    3-instead of gold medals, athletes compete for ribbons made by schoolchildren from around the world out of colored construction paper with crayon lettering.

    4-games are broadcast free by non-commercial networks employing ex-athletes whose airtime is severely limited.

    5-no national scoring. No medal or ribbon counts.

    6-no national teams. All teams are formed by selecting a captain by lot and alternating selection of team-mates. Sandlot rules.

    7-no permanent teams.

    8-restore the competitions for poetry and songs such as the original olympics.

    9-competitions for Chess, Bridge, go, origami, whist, euchre, hearts, rummy, quilting and knitting. We could use a good bass fishing event, too.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Barbara –

    If you want something to gripe about, castigate NBC for showing a painfully boring interview with Michael Phelps (which we were able to skip thanks to the DVR) instead of showing the ceremony’s remembrance of the 7/7 attack on London’s subway system.

  • Igor

    I’m still looking for the appropriate time to memorialize the unwarranted attack on USS Liberty by Israel: USS Liberty.

    The USS Liberty incident was an attack on a United States Navy technical research ship, USS Liberty, by Israeli Air Force jet fighter aircraft and Israeli Navy torpedo boats, on June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War.[2] The combined air and sea attack killed 34 crew members (naval officers, seamen, two Marines, and one civilian), wounded 170 crew members, and severely damaged the ship.[3] At the time, the ship was in international waters north of the Sinai Peninsula, about 25.5 nmi (29.3 mi; 47.2 km) northwest from the Egyptian city of Arish.[1][4]

    Both the Israeli and U.S. governments conducted inquiries and issued reports that concluded the attack was a mistake due to Israeli confusion about the identity of the USS Liberty,[5] though others, including many of the ship’s survivors that could be located four decades later, have rejected these conclusions and maintain that the attack was deliberate.[6]

    In May 1968, the Israeli government paid US$3,323,500 (US$22.2 million in 2012) as full payment to the families of the 34 men killed in the attack. In March 1969, Israel paid a further $3,566,457 in compensation to the men who had been wounded. On 18 December 1980, it agreed to pay $6 million as settlement for the final U.S. bill of $17,132,709 for material damage to the Liberty itself plus 13 years’ interest.[7]

    Coverups by the Weakling US government and lies by the irresponsible lying Israelis. Paltry settlement.

    45 years ago last month. If you hear anything send me a telegram.

  • Well, if it wasn’t done before, not sure I understand the expectation for it now. Nor am I surprised that the IOC wouldn’t want to remind people of their greatest failure during the event that pulls in the most viewers.

  • Chris–not just my complaint by a long shot. It is actually why Bob Costas did what he did during the ceremony.

    I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  • The point is that they were far bigger events than the awful attack in Munich and the UK opening ceremony was about Britain, not Germany or Israel, so I think your complaint is misplaced.

  • El Bicho–No, it was not.

    Chris–9/11 and Bosnia were acknowledged at other games, not the London games.

  • Was it commemorated on the 20th anniversary in Barcelona?

  • As you said, 9/11 and Bosnia were immense moments that involved Britain directly; as to the 2010 Winter Olympics, you’d have to ask the host nation.

    I don’t see any way that pulling Munich in would have made any sense at all but clearly you have a greater connection to what happened there, presumably for personal reasons..?

  • Then explain the acknowledgment of 9/11? Of Bosnia? Granted, these were huge losses, but what then about 2010 winter games, with its moment of silence to commemorate an athlete who died in a training accident?

  • I’m not defending Rogge as I was unaware of this debating point until you raised it.

    Nevertheless, the opening ceremonies are designed by the host nations and to suddenly switch the focus from a very British story to Munich would have made no sense at all.

  • Yes, Chris, I’m aware of all that. Yet other moments have been acknowledged in the O.C.’s many, many times that had nothing to do with the host country. The fact is that the tragedy was tied to the Games, making it relevant. I think Danny Boyle did a brilliant job with Isles of Wonder.

    The fact that Rogge used the excuse he did made the whole thing much worse. Had he not used that particularly ridiculous excuse, I probably would not have been so struck by it.

    Before I saw the ceremonies, I actually bought what he said in some degree.

  • I think you are missing the point; these are the London Olympics and the opening ceremony was a celebration of Britain. It wasn’t a ceremony about the history of the IOC…

  • Perspective, I do understand, but in light of Rogge’s comments earlier…

    Had the 1972 massacre not been connected to the Olympics, it would not have had a place in the ceremonies, of course. But it happened AT the Olympics, and with the coinciding of the 40th anniversary (unlike the 50th will, say) this year.

    The IOC has always been prone to hypocrisy. My question remains: if had been Americans or Brits (or South Africans, or…). The point is that this was a milestone anniversary of an Olympic-specific tragedy. There was no reason not to acknowledge it.

    I loved the opening ceremonies (I thought NBC’s coverage was terrible on the other hand) which is the topic of the article I’m now penning. I loved the emphasis on people over power. I would have expected nothing less from Danny Boyle.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Yes, the opening ceremonies did not commemorate the 11 coaches and players who died – I remember it, too – but the opening ceremonies did pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands who died in the Great War. The only thing I think that was missing was more than a passing remembrance of Winston Churchill and the “finest hour” of the nation that has came closer to ruling the world than any other.

    A bit of perspective is called for.