Forty years ago this September, at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, Palestinian terrorists took hostage 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the Olympic Village. Two of the athletes were executed, and after a 20-hour standoff, the remaining hostages were killed during a botched rescue attempt at a German military airfield.
Families of the victims requested they be remembered with a minute of silence Friday when the London Summer Olympics begin with the three hours of gaudy theatrical excess known as the Opening Ceremony. But for reasons that can only be called dubious, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge determined any 40-year reference to the “Black September” events – even a simple moment of silence – is inappropriate .
“We feel,” Rogge said during an IOC press conference Saturday, “that the Opening Ceremony is an atmosphere that is not conducive to remembering such a tragic incident.”
Rogge noted how IOC representatives are planning to meet with the Israeli Olympic Committee for a private commemoration next week in London, and that the IOC will visit the German airfield for a formal event of remembrance on Sept. 5.
But a minute of silence before an international TV audience of 4 billion? That wouldn’t be “conducive” to the “atmosphere.”
What Rogge really meant was it wouldn’t be conducive to the IOC’s relationship with nations that aren’t friendly with Israel. The IOC isn’t opposed to mourning the dead; it just depends on the homeland of those who died.
Eight hours before the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, a Georgian luger died on a training run. A moment of silence was held in B.C. Place, and Canadian Mounties lowered the Olympic and Canadian flags to half-staff.
During the Opening Ceremony for the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake City – the first major international event held after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – eight U.S. athletes, accompanied by five policemen and four firefighters from New York City, carried the tattered Ground Zero flag into Rice-Eccles Stadium. Three minutes of silence ensued.
At the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games, then IOC-president Juan Antonio Samaranch called for a moment of silence “in memory of the city of Sarajevo,” where a civil war was raging.
“Please stop killing,” Samaranch said in his Opening Ceremony remarks. “Drop your guns, please.”
In each of those instances, silence was requested amid spectacles that made the typical Super Bowl halftime show look no more gaudy than bingo night at the Elk’s Club. It’s not difficult for athletes and fans to devote a brief moment to reverence during three hours of relentless pageantry.
Devoting a minute to the memory of 11 Israeli Olympians murdered 40 years ago would’ve graced the Opening Ceremony in London with a brief measure of dignity, but the script is lengthy and time is tight, and besides, what would Israel’s neighbors think?
Without the horrific history of 1972 to intrude, the show phase of the first-night show in London will go on, apparently in three acts. Olympic ceremony plans are supposed to be as guarded as the minutes of a Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting, but according to the London Sunday Telegraph, the festivities on Friday will commence with a James Bond impersonator dropping in from a helicopter.
And then London will try to out-Beijing the Opening Ceremony of 2008, a production so lavish that it’s possible the last supporting-cast participant returned home only an hour ago.
“A stage backdrop of hills, streams, meadows and a thatched cottage will evoke Britain’s rural past,” the Telegraph reported. “The landscape will be dotted with live animals, including 12 horses, three cows, 70 sheep, three sheepdogs and a horse-drawn plough, along with milkmaids, picnicking families, an Edwardian village cricket team in flannels, caps and braces, and people dancing around maypoles.”
Did I mention this is only Act 1? In Act 3, it’s looking like the ceremony will take that inevitable turn in Bizarroville with a “parade of dancing nurses and ancillary staff pushing hospital beds to represent the NHS and the Welfare State.”
Not to critique a show I haven’t seen yet, but I’ve long believed that if you’ve seen one parade of dancing nurses and ancillary staff pushing hospital beds to represent the NHS and the Welfare State, you’ve seen ’em all.
Wait, there’s more.
There’s a roller derby team and a burlesque performer appearing with 12,000 dancers, drummers, skateboarders, acrobats and actors dressed as British historical figures.
NBC’s Bob Costas again has been assigned the hopeless job of trying to describe all this with a straight face for his American audience, but the telegenic youth Costas projects on camera belies the fact he is an old pro. He’ll do fine, and he’ll do it with a defiant disregard of IOC bureaucracy.
Costas is planning on devoting a minute of silence to the Israeli Olympians killed 40 years ago.
“I intend to note that the IOC denied the request,” Costas told reporters a few days ago. “Many people find that denial more than puzzling, but insensitive.”
Insensitive? Without a doubt. But the shabby disregard toward 11 Israeli families still grieving 40 years after the Munich massacre is not puzzling.
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