40 YEARS LATER 72 OLYMPICS A LESSON IN TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH

TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH AT THE OLYMPICS

Triumph in the Olympics helps restore pride in country, and it would be great if only the stories about the athletes and their country’s accomplishments were strictly about the sports they play.

However, and despite their denials, the Olympics are about so much more and have often been a place where politics, both peaceful and radical, present the best forum to be heard.

If the Olympics have taught us anything, it is those feel good stories, and heroes, are not the only story lines that emerge from the games. When you involve the world, sometimes, tragedy reigns above triumph, and while it is hard to believe that it has been 16-years since the Atlanta games, which had its own tragedy, it has been 40 years since the tragic events of 1972 Games in Munich, Germany.

Unfortunately, if not for network coverage remembering the 72’ games during the London broadcast, today’s generation may never learn or understand why the tragedy occurred during the Games of XX Olympiad. The biggest reason is that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not want you to remember.

The IOC has long been a committee that believes in the do as I say not as I do philosophy. The IOC has been involved in everything from bribery to doping to judging scandals. Olympic controversies have been going on as long as the games themselves.

The IOC can be even more corrupt than the NCAA at times, and isn’t that funny how both claim to be proponents of amateur athletics. For the IOC, it boils down to the very issue they claim they want to prevent from seeping into the games, politics. It is hard to leave politics out of the Olympics when there are flags flying from 205 different nations flying high. 

The world was brought to its collective knees back in 1972, when on the tenth day of competition, members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian group Black September.

The Munich massacre, which the tragic events has become known to be called, brought the games to an abrupt halt. On September 5, a group of eight Palestinian terrorists belonging to the Black September organization broke into the Olympic Village and took nine Israeli athletes, coaches and officials hostage in their apartments. Two of the hostages who resisted were killed in the first moments of the break-in; the subsequent standoff in the Olympic Village lasted for almost 18 hours.

Hours into the tragedy, the terrorists and their hostages were transferred by helicopter to the military airport of Fürstenfeldbruck, to board a plane bound for an undetermined Arab country. The Germans had concocted a plan to overtake the terrorist, but as many military forces often do when fighting terror, they under-estimated the number of terrorists, as well as their capabilities.

The rescue attempt failed, and during the process, all of the Israeli hostages were brutally killed. Four of them were shot, and then incinerated when a Palestinian detonated a grenade inside the helicopter in which the hostages were sitting.  The five remaining hostages were then machine-gunned by another terrorist.

At 3:24 am, with legendary sports producer Roone Arledge feeding the events to ABC Olympic studio host Jim McKay through his earpiece, McKay relayed the following to the world, “When I was a kid, my father used to say, “Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.” Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said that there were eleven hostages. Two were killed in their room’s yesterday morning; nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”

Many requests have been sent since then asking for a moment of silence during past Olympic Games, but as the 40th anniversary approaches, many, including various leaders throughout the world, have amplified the plea.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon asked the IOC for that moment once again back in April.

In a letter sent to directly to IOC President Jacques Rogge last April, Ayalon requested the commemoration of the 11 killed athletes, as well as an emphasis on the Olympic principles of equality and brotherhood’.

“We must remain vigilant against acts of hate and intolerance that stand in contrast to the ideals of the international Olympics,” said Ayalon. He sent a copy of the letter to the relatives of the murdered victims, who have also spent decades petitioning for a moment of silence at the Olympics.

“For 40 years the International Olympic Committee has refused our request to commemorate the sacrifice of our loved ones,” said Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, one of the murdered athletes, according to an Israeli Foreign Ministry press release dated April 2012.

Marco Rubio

United States Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), have also asked for the moment. Back in June when Gillibrand and Rubio were instrumental in the passage of a Senate resolution urging the IOC to observe one minute of silence during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Perhaps the best request came from Canada’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs John Baird and Sports Minister Bal Gosal when they wrote, “The terrorist attack targeted not only Israel, but the spirit and goals of the Olympic movement … it should be marked publicly as part of the official ceremony. …”

The IOC, as they have done every year for the past 39 years, and previous nine summer Olympics denied the request. This denial took less than a month to draft, and in his letter back to the Israeli Deputy Minister Roggue wrote that he “planned to attend a reception at London’s Guildhall traditionally hosted by Israel’s Olympic committee in memory of the victims, “and the I.O.C. is always strongly represented.”

Rogge also said in the letter, “We strongly sympathize with the victims’ families and understand their lasting pain.” He added, “What happened in Munich in 1972 strengthened the determination of the Olympic Movement to contribute more than ever to building a peaceful and better world by educating young people through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit.”

Rogge said the I.O.C. “has officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on several occasions and will continue to do so in close coordination with the National Olympic Committee of Israel.”

Olympic flag at half staff during 72 games

Holding a moment of silence during the 40-year anniversary seems like an easy decision. Just as the decision to take down the Joe Paterno statue seemed like an easy one. The reasons for these non- decisions that seem so easy to make, has to be fear.

South African President Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Allowing the games to pay a moment of silence to the tragic events of 1972, would send a message to terrorists around the world that acts of violence will not politically paralyze the spirit that the games and the IOC claim they portray.

The IOC caved immediately back in 1972, and is still intimidated today. During the memorial service following the tragedy in 1972, Olympic Flag was flown at half-staff, along with the flags of most of the other competing nations at the request of Willy Brandt, the Chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. However, 10 Arab nations objected to their flags being lowered to honor murdered Israelis; their flags were restored to the tops of their flagpoles almost immediately.

Politics also rears its ugly head on the field of play, and again the 1972 games offer an example the sporting world has never forgotten.  The Munich games were a roller coaster ride of emotions for the United States. The 1972 Olympics should have been remembered as the games that Mark Spitz became the original Michael Phelps by swimming his way to seven gold medals. Spitz would go onto become an American icon for his feat, but asked to leave the games prior to the closing ceremonies because officials feared his Jewish heritage and success at the games could provoke another attack. The 72’ games should have also been remembered as the year when Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut became a media darling by capturing three gold’s and one silver. She grabbed the gold in the team competition, balance beam and floor exercise, while claiming silver in the uneven bars.

Unfortunately, the IOC has assured the rest of the world that the 1972 Olympics will not be remembered; at least the way the rest of the world wants to see it remembered. Starting Friday the Olympics will span 17 days, 408 hours and almost 25,000 minutes until the flame is extinguished during the closing ceremonies. I find it hard to believe that they cannot find just one minute to remember the tragic events of the 72 games. Cowards.

 

 

 

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