By BICOM CEO, Dermot Kehoe
When Ankie Spitzer, widow of Andre Spitzer, stretched out her hands to Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, and begged him to hold a minute’s silence, he refused. “My hands are tied” he said. “No,” Ankie replied: “Your hands are not tied. My husband’s hands were tied, so were here his feet, when he was murdered. That was having your hands tied.”
The IOC refuses to take one minute at today’s opening ceremony to mark the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches by the terrorist group Black September at the 1972 Munich Olympics. That simple human exchange tells us why the decision is shameful.
Mr Rogge is afraid of something. Of that there is no doubt. And his fear is stopping us Londoners showcasing two of our best traditions to the world: our refusal to be made afraid by terrorists and our willingness to stretch out our hands in solidarity to its victims. A minute of silence for those athletes held in this city would have been the moment of silence heard around the world.
On 6 July 2005 London won the Olympics. One day later four terrorists crept onto trains and buses around London and killed 52 people died and injured over 700. I live in Kings Cross where twenty-six people died when a teenage suicide bomber blew himself up on a packed Piccadilly Line Train. I remember that morning vividly. I left for work, found my tube station emptying and no one being allowed inside. I felt the irritation all Londoners feel when public transport lets us down. It was not until later that morning that the true nature and scale of the what had happened became clear.
However, when I think of 7/7 what I remember most was the dignified silence as we all walked home in shock. I remember the astonishing wave of angry defiance that broke out within hours. We refused to be cowed by the perpetrators. We refused to see ourselves as victims. Our spirit was captured by We are not afraid.com where we famously posted images of our defiance for all the world to see. We seemed to know instinctively how to stick our thumb in the eye of the terrorists. In the words of the website we would ‘show the world that we are not afraid of what happened in London and that the world is a better place without fear.’ The website’s symbol was hands held together in love and comradeship.
Mr Rogge claims there is no precedent for a minute of silence. Wrong: the 2002 Winter Games opened with a minute of silence for victims of 9/11. The 2010 Winter Games opened with a commemoration for an athlete who died in a training accident. Rogge argues it is wrong to mix sport and politics. But it is not ‘political’ to hold a minute’s silence for slaughtered Olympians at an Olympic Games. It is highly political not to.
To fend off criticism, Rogge held an impromptu moment of silence earlier in the week. This added insult to injury. Ankie Spitzer’s reaction was scathing. “This is not the right solution, to hold some ceremony in front of 30 or 40 people. We asked for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony, not for someone to mumble something in front of a few dozen people.”
The opening ceremony is to showcase Britain, our culture and our values. It belongs to Britain, it belongs to London, it belongs to all of us. We should use this opportunity, regardless of what the IOC may say, to show the world that our values include refusing to be made afraid by terrorists and our willingness to hold our hands out in solidarity to its victims.
Illana Romano is the widow of slain Israeli weightlifter Yossef Romano. Her message to Mr Rogge is blunt: “you have let terror win today.” Sadly, she is right. Today, my city will be press-ganged into a shameful display of cowardice.
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