As with all bureaucracies of its size and aloof detachment, the International Olympic Committee is blithely indifferent to the very principles it claims to uphold. Its charter proclaims that ‘any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement’.
It was precisely that discrimination – of country, race, religion, and politics – that inspired the worst atrocity the Olympic Games has ever seen. During the 1972 games in Munich, the Black September terrorist group took eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage and killed them.
Over the last few months there has been a concerted attempt to lobby the IOC to mark the forty year anniversary of that attack by observing a minute’s silence at the opening ceremony. The IOC’s President, Jacques Rogge, has pointedly dismissed the idea.
Rogge is said to fear a revolt by some Arab participants if a minute’s remembrance is incorporated into tomorrow’s proceedings. The official line is that the IOC does not want to muddy the waters of an already murky Middle East conflict. Yet, remembering the slain members of the Israeli Olympic team could hardly be construed as support for Israeli policies. It is a straightforward way of honouring the memory of eleven Olympians who were in Munich to participate within the framework of Olympic competition.
If the IOC’s repeated claim that the games are apolitical is to mean anything, then the fear of offence cannot provide sufficient grounds for the Rogge’s refusal. Indeed, his refusal on those grounds is a political act itself, cutting against another part of the IOC charter which commits its members to ‘take action against any form of discrimination and violence in sport’.
It would not be unprecedented for the IOC to hold some kind of remembrance. The opening ceremony to the 2002 games observed a minute’s silence for the victims of 9/11. What does it say when the very organisation that first brought those athletes to Munich now refuses to remember them?