MONTREAL – On Sept. 5, 1972, in Munich, Germany, terrorists took hostage and murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches, tarnishing the spirit of the Olympic Games. Olympic hopefuls seeking to perform to the best of their ability and to compete with dignity were denied the opportunity to fulfil their dreams and represent their country at the highest levels of athleticism. Friends and family waiting for news of the athletes’ accomplishments were met with devastating reports. It was the first time such violence and terrorism had infiltrated the Olympics, and it is the worst terrorist atrocity in the history of the Games.
As the body responsible for upholding and exemplifying the Olympic spirit, the International Olympic Committee has failed the international community by its refusal to appropriately commemorate the Munich massacre.
Individuals and governments from around the world, including Canada, the United States, Australia, Britain and Germany, have called on the IOC to hold a minute of silence in memory of the victims in Munich during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. In Canada, the House of Commons adopted a unanimous motion proposed by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler for a moment of silence. Yet at every opportunity the IOC has refused to include a special observance in the opening ceremonies, maintaining that the commencement event of the Olympics is not the appropriate time to remember such a tragic incident.
The request for a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies is not without precedent. In 1996, the IOC included a memorial service honouring the lives lost during the Bosnian War. In 2002, there were no dissenting opinions on the appropriateness of including a memorial service during the opening ceremony for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The devastation and loss felt by the international community as a result of these events is indisputable, yet their connection and relevance to the Olympic Games is tenuous at best. How, then, does the IOC refuse to honour the victims of the Munich massacre in the same manner?
Ankie Spitzer, the widow of Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer, is among those who have been advocating for a commemoration since the 1972 Games. She describes an encounter that occurred just days before the attack, when she and her husband spotted a group of Lebanese athletes in Munich. “Andre decided to walk over and strike up a conversation with them. I told him: ‘Are you crazy? We’re at war with Lebanon!’ Andre looked at me and said, ‘Here there are no borders, no animosities.’ I’ll never forget, when he finished speaking with them and shaking hands, he turned toward me with a huge smile and said: ‘I’ve been dreaming of this. This is exactly what the Olympics are all about.’ ”
A minute of silence at the opening ceremonies in London on Friday would serve as a reaffirmation of the most noble ideals of the Olympic tradition, and an attempt to rebuild a part of the sanctity that was lost four decades ago.
While local ceremonies organized by communities around the world are a significant gesture of support and solidarity for the bereaved families, they do not compensate for the IOC’s long-standing and stubborn refusal to formally commemorate the Munich tragedy during the opening ceremonies, and acknowledge the darkest moment in its history.
It is for this reason that the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and Federation CJA have decided to honour the 40th anniversary of this tragic event by organizing a public commemoration.
The victims and their families deserve this acknowledgement.
A Montreal commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre will take place Thursday, July 26, at 4:30 p.m. at 1 Cummings Square.
Luciano Del Negro is vice-president (Quebec) of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.