Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Olympics, mark dark day in Munich

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
August 16, 2012 -- Updated 1809 GMT (0209 HKT)
Will Jaques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Commitee, mark the tragedy at the 1972 Munich Games?
Will Jaques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Commitee, mark the tragedy at the 1972 Munich Games?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Most chilling moment at an Olympics occurred in the 1972 Munich Games
  • Ghitis: A dozen Israeli athletes were taken hostage and murdered in an act of terrorism
  • She says IOC officials claim -- falsely -- that they would never mix politics with the games
  • Ghitis: It's a travesty that the IOC refuses to mark the 40th anniversary of that dark day

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer/correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- The Olympic Games have always featured an awkward mix of high ideals and crass, even brutal, political calculation. The Games have provided countless moments of inspiration, not only about personal achievement but, more importantly, about breaking down the barriers that push apart countries and individuals.

The Olympics, however, have also reminded us how far human beings can stray from those ideals.

The most chilling, frightening and heartbreaking moment at any Olympics came 40 years ago, at the 1972 Munich Olympics, when nearly a dozen Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed in what was a terrorist attack by any definition of the term. In addition to the athletes and trainers, a German policeman and five Palestinian kidnappers died that September day.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

Now, that tragedy has become the source of more disheartening behavior, this time by officials of the International Olympic Committee, who adamantly refuse to mark the anniversary of that dark day with a simple moment of silence.

The Munich Massacre was an open assault on the most fundamental principles the Olympics purport to embrace: "the harmonious development of humankind ... a peaceful society [and] the preservation of human dignity."

The attack was carried out by members of the Palestinian group Black September, and their targets were obviously the Israelis. But honoring the victims should have nothing to do with Israel.

In a letter to IOC President Jacques Rogge, Canada's Ministers of Foreign Affairs John Baird and Sports Minister Bal Gosal explained it best when they wrote, "The terrorist attack targeted not only Israel, but the spirit and goals of the Olympic movement ... it should be marked publicly as part of the official ceremony. ..."

For more than three decades, the families of those killed in the attack have tried to have the Olympics honor their loved ones during the opening ceremonies. Incredibly, the IOC has steadfastly refused that very simple request.

Olympic officials claim -- quite falsely -- that they would never mix politics with the games. But that is clearly not the real reason. The real reason is cowardice.

Politics have always been part of the games, and very deliberately.

In 1908, Finland was banned from displaying its own flag, for fear of offending Russia. The losers of both WW I and WWII were kept out of the games. We know that Hitler used the 1936 Olympics to promote his ideas of Aryan superiority, and we know the United States and the Soviet Union boycotted the games for political reasons. In 2008, the IOC disgracefully agreed to let China block access to Internet sites in the Beijing games.

Examples of politicization of the Olympics abound. But now, somehow the murder of Israelis has become unmentionable, under the flimsy excuse that it would inject politics into the pristine Olympics.

The real reason is simple: Olympic officials are afraid to upset countries with anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian sentiment. That is misguided and shameful. Standing against the slaying of Olympic athletes has nothing to do with the politics of the Middle East.

Olympic officials have admitted they are afraid to trigger a walkout of Arab countries. This is worse than giving in to blackmail. It is particularly egregious behavior since it comes from those claiming to stand for high humanistic ideals.

Ironically, an Israeli member of the IOC revealed the concern when he said he, too, opposed the moment of silence, saying that "it could cause some countries to boycott the games."

This year, the campaign to honor the victims has mustered more support than ever, with several countries and tens of thousands of people around the world joining in the effort.

The energy for the campaign originated with Ankie Spitzer, whose husband, Andrei, was the fencing coach of the Israeli Olympic delegation in 1972. He left home with nothing but excitement to participate in the international celebration. He returned home in a coffin.

Spitzer, who said, "Hatred and revenge are not a part of me," insisted she fervently believes in the Olympic ideal. In a heartfelt video she requested support for what has become her life's mission. Already more than 90,000 people have signed the petition. But the IOC refuses to listen.

Spitzer's daughter, Anouk, who was just 2 months old when her father was killed in Munich, tried to have the moment marked at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. But IOC's director general Francois Carrard declared at the start of the games that the IOC does not "organize events that commemorate dramas that are long gone."

Anouk said of Munich 1972: "We just want one word from the IOC that this wasn't just a regular Olympics, that our fathers were killed there." Her request, like all the others, was denied.

The ongoing petition for a moment of silence clearly states that this should not be a political moment. Spitzer and her supporters said all they want is silence. "Silence is a fitting tribute for athletes who lost their lives on the Olympic stage. Silence contains no statements, assumptions or beliefs and requires no understanding of language to interpret."

They want recognition that what occurred took place "within the Olympic family," a sharing of their sorrow that will help ensure this never happens again.

But the IOC apparently sees this as a purely Israeli problem. Rogge has attended memorial ceremonies, but usually they are organized by the Israeli government. That's not enough.

Rogge has been hearing from all corners of the world. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle supports the moment of silence. The parliaments of Canada and Australia voted unanimously to ask the IOC to agree to the request. Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard wrote to Rogge, officially asking for the moment of silence. Flemish Sport Minister Philippe Muyters also backs a moment of silence, saying, "One does not need to take a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian question to find the events of September 1972 heinous." In Italy, 125 MPs also signed a letter to the IOC in support of the moment of silence.

The IOC still refuses.

With the growing pressure, the chairman of the London 2012 Organizing Committee, Sebastian Coe, has reportedly said he will hold a personal memorial for the Israeli athletes. Nobody knows exactly what that means.

Perhaps the London committee will give the families of the Israeli victims the recognition they want for their loved ones. Even if they do, that will not remove the stain of cowardice now on display at the International Olympic Committee, which remains visibly splashed across those Olympic ideals they hypocritically claim to promote.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT