In about a week from now, the world will tune in to watch the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic Games. With all of the fanfare it deserves, this event brings together most of the world in harmony unseen in almost every other part of international relations. In principle, the Olympics were founded with the goal of placing “sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
A sports event intended to bring people together in harmony where politics and policies often fail, is more than commendable, it merits deeper study to replicating its influence in all parts of life. What is it about competitive sports that inspires people to put aside political, religious and often deep seated hatreds and divides and just play the game, put in their all and walk away feeling camaraderie rather than enmity?
The opening games this year, however, come with a dark memory of 40 years ago in Munich. Not exactly the anniversary, as those games began on August 26 in 1972, but as the summer series begins on July 27 this year, it is hard not to recall Black September when 11 Israeli athletes and a policeman were killed by Palestinian terrorists trying to make a political point.
That day needs to be remembered at this year’s ceremonies, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that one of the basic principles of the Olympics – promoting peace and preserving human dignity – has not been crushed. Yet, the International Olympic Committee, in their very rejection of a moment of silence for fear that Arab nations may boycott the games, or that nations that are antagonistic to Israel might be offended, have violated that charter. They are putting the political agenda of nations and anti-Semites ahead of the fundamentals they purport to believe in.
The politics of the Olympics is such that the IOC hides behind the tepid argument that it does not engage in politics. That is the very first red flag as to their true political views. Throughout the history of the Olympics, the games have routinely been clouded by world politics and specific national interests.
Finland was banned from displaying its own flag in 1908 because the Olympic officials were worried about offending Russia, which is similar to not wanting to offend Israel’s enemies in 2012. Then, to satisfy the “mood” of the world at the time, the nations defeated in both WW I and WWII were banned from the games. In 1936, no one called Hitler out when he used the opportunity to promote his agenda – the Aryan race. Then, more recently, in 2008, the IOC allowed China to block Internet sites in the Beijing games.
Notwithstanding the past politics, the IOC responded to requests for a moment of silence during the opening ceremony by many nations, dignitaries and Ankie Spitzer, the wife of the Israeli team’s fencing coach, Andrei Spizter, who was killed in ’72, by saying that the IOC “has officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on several occasions and will continue to do so in close coordination with the National Olympic Committee of Israel.”
Jacques Rogge, the president of the IOC may as well have said, “Been there done that.” The response was not only insulting; his words - that we would have to believe were crafted by some of the best public relations and communications people and vetted by a dozen set of eyes before they were presented to the public – belie the stated sentiment.
The whole point of the moment of silence is to show the entire world that the massacre in Munich was indeed a blight on the world, on the Olympic games and every nation that sends its athletes to compete under the five interlaced continental rings. The terror attack did not occur in Israel, but in Germany, in the tightly protected Olympic Village, guarded by an Olympic managed security force and domestic law enforcement. The attack which was meant to strike Israel, struck the symbol of peace and humanity and shattered the Olympic spirit, “which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
In Rogge’s rejection of a moment of silence, he referred to tributes in coordination with Israel’s National Olympic committee; he made it Israel’s issue, not his, not theirs, not ours. In doing so, he revealed the dirty politics where Israel is usually pitted against the world, even in places where they claim to be above that.
Black September was a dreary day for Israel, but Israel uses each and every challenge as a means to grow stronger, wiser and sharper. It was also a truly dark day for any Olympian and their sponsoring countries, who now know that the affairs affecting them at home can haunt them even in this “peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Yet, the IOC refuses to learn from it, and in fact, yields to the very worst of humanity, from whom the Olympics were designed to defy.
Juda Engelmayer is a senior vice president of the New York public relations agency, 5WPR