In my first five blogs, I’ve written mostly about great sporting achievements. Now I’d like to turn to one of the Olympic Games’ darkest moments and one that had many consequences; not just for future Olympic Games and major sporting events, but also the world.
MUNICH 1972: “THEY’RE ALL GONE”
“When I was a kid my father used to say ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realised’. Our worst fears have been realised tonight. They have now said there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”
These words were spoken by US sports broadcaster Jim McKay as he found himself unexpectedly anchoring a live terrorist event unfolding on international television in the morning of 5 September 1972.
The terror attack was the work of a group called Black September. In addition to the eleven Israeli athletes and officials, five terrorists and one West German police officer were killed.
Unlike much of the terror attacks with which we are – tragically – more familiar with today, this one was highly targeted and highly symbolic. A Palestinian group attacking Israeli athletes on German soil. It was a point in history where Germany was trying to reinvent its image. As much as possible, Germany wanted the Munich Games to help dim the memory of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, the reign of Adolf Hitler, the Second World War and the Holocaust.
The point of this blog is not to regurgitate the tragedy, why it happened and how it might have been avoided. Many, much cleverer and learned people than me have done so. You can also read this harrowing account in the New York Times.
My point is the two women who have fought to have the athletes remembered, and support from an unexpected quarter.
At the time, the then President of the IOC, American Avery Brundage ordered the Munich Games to continue after a 24-hour suspension to show that the terrorists hadn’t won.
That 24-hour suspension is the only deference the IOC gave to the Munich massacre until last week. In 2012, the IOC refused a minute’s silence with then President Jacques Rogge suggesting that his attendance at a non-Olympic event to commemorate the 40th anniversary was sufficient. It boggles the mind.
However, last week, thanks to the untiring efforts of the widows of two of the murdered athletes, Ilana Romano (Yossef Romano) and Ankie Spitzer (Andre Spitzer), the IOC finally started to right history.
Mrs Romano and Mrs Spitzer both credit Thomas Bach for a commemoration at the Place of Mourning set up in the Olympic Village.
The Place of Mourning was built to honour the 11 Israelis killed in 1972, two victims of a bombing at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and a Georgian luger killed in Vancouver in 2010.
There is also to be a ‘moment of reflection’ during the Closing Ceremony.
Until Bach’s appointment in 2013, Mrs Romano’s and Mrs Spitzer’s campaign to commemorate their respective husband’s and their team mates fell on the very deaf ears of past IOC Presidents: Brundage (USA), Lord Killanin (Ireland), Juan Antonio Samaranch (Spain) and Rogge (Belgium).
At the Olympic Village ceremony last week, Bach said: “We commemorate [the 11 Israeli athletes] because this was an attack not on our fellow Olympians, but also an assault on the values that the Olympic Village stands for. It was an attack on the universal power of sport to unite all of humanity in peace and solidarity.”
I criticise IOC President Thomas Bach for many things; but in this, he finally made right a 44-year wrong.
If only he could do the same with all the other issues the IOC faces.
The 11 Israeli team members
David Berger, Weightlifter
Ze’ev Friedman, Weightlifter
Yossef Gutfreund, Wrestling Referee
Eliezer Halfin, Wrestler
Yossef Romano, Weightlifter
Amitzur Shapira, Track Coach
Kehat Shorr, Shooting Coach
Mark Slavin, Greco-Roman Wrestler
Andre Spitzer, Fencing Coach
Yavkov Springer, Weightlifting Judge
Moshe Weinberg, Wrestling Coach