“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.