Tuesday 7 August 2012

Remembering the Munich 11

The start of the 2012 London Olympic Games has arrived with great excitement and expectation for thousands of athletes and coaches, and for millions of viewers around the world.  For some, however, the Olympic Games represents negative feelings and bad memories.  Chief amongst those are the families of the 11 Israelis who were killed 40 years ago at the Munich.  For these people, the Olympic Games will always represent a reminder of the cruel way in which innocent lives were cut short in their prime.

With the passing of 40 years since those tragic events, has come a concerted effort by the bereaved families of the athletes and coaching staff to hold a formal commemoration at the London Olympic Games in memory of the victims.  These efforts have been formally supported by millions around the world, including a number of national governments.  Special resolutions and requests to hold a minute's silence at the London opening ceremony were adopted by governments in Australia, Canada and the USA amongst others.  It is astonishing that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games have opposed these efforts, and decided against holding a minute's silence in memory of the murdered athletes and coaches as well as the German police officer who was also killed by the terrorists.

This decision is almost tantamount to the  IOC denying the link between the cruel loss of life, and the Olympic movement.  There can be no denying that the athletes and coaches were in Munich, in the Olympic village, only for the purpose of competing in the games.  They were kidnapped and killed on the watch of the IOC and the organising committee of the Munich Games.  Nothing would be more appropriate, than for a minute's silence to be held at the biggest event of the games, which is undoubtedly the opening ceremony.  This would allow the IOC to acknowledge the tragedy that was allowed to take place when the IOC was on duty, and also to memorialise the names of the innocent victims in the tragedy. The act of opposing a formal memorial at the opening ceremony is a way of denying responsibility for the event, and also serves to reduce the significance of this tragedy.

In response to the decision by the London organisers not to hold a formal memorial ceremony, chairman of the Palestinian Olympic Committee  Jibril Rajoub has written to the IOC President to thank him.  He wrote, "Sport is a bridge for love, unification and for spreading peace among the nations.  It must not be a cause for divisiveness and for the spreading of racism'".  Perhaps Mr Rajoub conveniently forgot that it was terrorists linked to his own organisation who carried out the heinous crime,  murdering 11 innocent sportsmen and a police officer in cold blood.  It is clear that Mr Rajoub didn't wish to miss an opportunity to make a fool of himself in writing such a ridiculous letter.  It is fair to say, however, that the IOC invited such a response by behaving in a way that can be interpreted as denying the importance of such a commemoration.

Various commemorations which have been held on the fringe of the games, one at the Olympic village and one hosted by the Israeli ambassador to the UK, do not go far enough to formally respect the memories of innocent people who should have been protected by the IOC and games organisers.  They were let down by these people who allowed them to be kidnapped from the campus of the games.  The only crime that they committed which resulted in them being given the death sentence, was that they were Jews and Israelis.  Surely, the least that the IOC can do is to allow their memories to be formally commemorated?

The English Football Association has provided a great example for the IOC in the way that the Hillsborough disaster, and the 96 Liverpool fans killed in 1989, continue to be commemorated.  A minute's silence is held at every football ground across the country on the date that is the anniversary of this tragedy.  This includes grounds which have nothing to do with either of the teams in the game on the day, or the ground where the game was held.  It is a true mark of respect when even those unrelated to the event are able to stand silent for a minute in memory of the victims.  It remains unclear to me why this was not possible at the opening ceremony.

While the memories of those who were killed will never be forgotten by their families and the people of Israel, the time has come for the IOC to memorialise the names as well.  A minute's silence at the opening ceremony is the respectable and respectful way to do this.

Until such time as the victims get the public recognition that they deserve, we can each play our part in ensuring that their memories are not forgotten.  The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth has written a prayer to commemorate the victims.  This can be found using the following link.  Please do read it, and encourage those around you to do the same.

May the memories of the 11 be for a blessing for their families, and for all Israeli sportsmen and women.

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