The International Olympic Committee never disappoints. If it can be wrongheaded, misguided or just plain out of touch with the world, then by golly it will be. It is vain, corrupt and elitist, qualities that are unattractive in a person and intolerable in an entire group of them.
But every now and then the IOC surpasses even itself in sheer . . . I can’t think of a printable word. “Idiocy” is too soft, but this is a family newspaper. What now? IOC President Jacques Rogge refuses to allow a moment of silence during Friday’s Opening Ceremonies in London for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slain 40 years ago.
If ever there was a reason for the often overused moment of silence, this is it. The Israelis were kidnapped in Munich during the 1972 Games by eight members of a terrorist group known as Black September. They were eventually taken from their living quarters to an airport, where German authorities tried and failed to rescue them. All 11 Israelis were killed.
They were kidnapped and killed for being Israeli. That was the sum total of the reason. They were Jewish athletes killed in a country that had just 30 years earlier tried to exterminate their entire people. It was a horror for Israel, for Germany, for people with any heart or soul. And it should have been a horror for the IOC.
Yet 40 years later, there isn’t time among the singing vampires and dancing hobbits for a moment of silence? Please.
The IOC has been pressured by Jewish groups and politicians in the United States, Israel and Germany to honor the victims. Rogge’s response: “We feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.” So, choreographed pickup trucks are okay, but remembering murdered athletes isn’t. Check.
What atmosphere is fit? Apparently, a private one. Rogge staged a ceremony of his own at the Athletes’ Village in London earlier this week. There were about 100 people there. Seriously. One hundred people?
The Opening Ceremonies in 2008 drew 34.2 million viewers — in the United States alone. What an opportunity to send a message to the world about tolerance instead of hate. Wouldn’t that be refreshing? But apparently even Super Bowl halftime shows have more message than the Opening Ceremonies of a global event that is at least, ostensibly, supposed to promote peace and understanding between nations. (Yeah, I know, but it’s supposed to. That’s not a part of the NFL charter.)
Bob Costas, who will host NBC’s coverage Friday, feels that the Israeli athletes should be honored. “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive,” he told the Hollywood Reporter last month.
Costas is in a unique position. The IOC decides who gets the TV rights to cover the Games; NBC has them through 2020. And while the IOC apparently has a short memory when it comes to its murdered athletes, it has a long memory when it comes to money.
So Costas will be walking a fine line if he chooses to go rogue during the telecast. Hopefully he’ll remember the late Jim McKay, whose work during the 1972 Games was as stellar as it was difficult.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful if the athletes themselves took over? What if, during the parade of nations, when the Israeli team was introduced, everyone else just . . . stopped. And then stood still for 60 seconds. Short of using cattle prods, organizers couldn’t do a damn thing about it. The athletes would demonstrate, clearly, that they understood Israel’s continued pain. They would show that they have more sense, more decency than Rogge and his cronies — not a hard hurdle to clear. What can he do, send them all home?
By refusing to honor these athletes, the IOC dishonors them. A moment of silence at the Athletes’ Village, a reception on Aug. 6, a ceremony in Munich next month — all of these are empty gestures because the world isn’t watching. The world was watching 40 years ago, breathless and praying, when those athletes were taken from the Olympic Village and killed by terrorists. They deserve better than that as their epitaphs.
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/
Hamilton: The dishonor of the IOC