About the time I was wending my way through security at Orly Airport in Paris — a string of water-bottle and personal-space indignities familiar to anybody who has flown since 9/11 — arguably the most powerful human being in sport was explaining why the Olympics are not the venue to acknowledge ugly realities.
“We feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident,” said Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president. He was talking about why the IOC still refuses to plan a minute of silence during the opening ceremony to remember victims of the Munich massacre 40 years ago (Rogge did lead a minute of silence Monday in the athletes village).
He is right about the opening ceremony, only sort of.
This is not how it should be. What he fails to realize — or, more likely, refuses to acknowledge because doing so is politically fraught — is this is how it is.
The Olympics, in its purest form, should not be a stage on which geo-political dramas play out or where massacres need to be commemorated. Of course, people should be able to watch "The Dark Knight Rises" without being shot and visit Bulgaria for a seaside vacation without being blown up and board a simple September flight without crashing into the World Trade Center and represent their country in the Olympics without being slaughtered. What I know for sure is what should be has nothing to do with what is.
Forty years ago in Munich, members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September kidnapped, then killed, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Honoring the dead with a minute of silence during the Olympics’ opening ceremony in London is not only appropriate. It is necessary.
To do otherwise is cowardice.
By Rogge. By us.
That Rogge wants to sanitize the opening ceremony is at least somewhat understandable in the maddening way that all political BS has some sort of twisted logic intertwined with the idiocy. He and all the IOC are afraid of an Arab boycott if they institute a minute of silence. I say this not because Munich widow Ankie Spitzer has said Rogge intimated this, or because the Israel foreign ministry has said “perhaps the IOC thinks anything to do with Israel is controversial. It is not a display of great courage and integrity,” or even because in 1972 the 10 Arab nations in Munich refused to have their flags flown at half-mast in the immediate aftermath. I say this because this is a 40-year tradition by the IOC of treating the Munich massacre as best forgotten.
The cowardice in us — media, fans, Olympic athletes — is less understandable. How do we not demand that opening-ceremony moment, not tell Rogge and his IOC brethren through an intermediary they might listen to such as Coke or McDonald’s that failing to memorialize the tragedy or, even worse, trivializing it with off-site, out-of-sight-out-of-mind memorials is unacceptable.
I wish Tommie Smith and John Carlos were competing once again, in hopes they would thrust their fists into the London night sky and thereby take the proper moment that Rogge refuses to give.
I also wish for a Peter Norman, the white Australian on the medal podium with them that night, wearing a human rights badge on his shirt not because he was black or American. He was neither. He did it because it was the right thing to do.
And a moment of silence during the opening ceremony is the right thing to do for the Israelis who were murdered.
A minute of silence during that time is about saying, ‘We do not forget’; it’s about showing we remain unbowed. In much the way we still get on planes after 9/11 and will still go to late-night movies, every two years the world will gather to play sports.
I was in awe Sunday as I watched a crush of people taking pictures and eating and just having fun around Olympic Park. I had been told so many times, and had taken to repeating as fact, that I was going to the most dangerous place in the world — the Olympics, and an Olympics in London, at that — that I was surprised more people were not scared away.
I am not ashamed to admit to being scared to cover this Olympics for security reasons. The UK has had its share of homegrown terrorists, has had very publicized problems with producing adequate security personnel (so much so that extra British military members have been summoned), and then came news via Sunday’s paper in London that “a terrorist believed to have been involved in a horrendous suicide bomb attack in Bulgaria last week has emerged as one of the biggest security threats to the Olympics.” And with that, it is impossible not to think back 40 years, to Munich.
Legendary announcer Jim McKay, who broadcasted live as the horrific events unfolded, wrote later, “That day was the end of innocence in sports.”
He is right, sort of.
Fear has become an Olympic sport nowadays. The Olympic Village and Olympic Park look like what I imagine the Green Zone in Iraq looks like, a series of gates and strongholds and walls meant to minimize the loss of life if the worst should happen. There are snipers on the tops of buildings and bomb-sniffing dogs and so many things that do not fit with the atmosphere Rogge envisions for an Olympics.
This is not how things should be. This is how they are. And yet into this ugly reality the Israeli delegation will march Friday, helping give the opening ceremony the festive feel Rogge says supercedes a minute of silence there. There are 38 of them with courage enough to come to London, to represent their country even through they most surely are targets, even though some countries will withdraw from events rather than compete against them, even after what happened 40 years ago to their fellow countrymen.
Their courage does not deserve Rogge’s cowardice, or ours. The very least we can give them in return is a minute on the world’s biggest stage.