Here’s another great guest post from an Annenberg alum (with a master’s in global communication), Jason Reinin, about the IOC’s decision not to have a moment of silence for the murders at the 1972 Munich Olympics. To learn more about the events at Munich, please read the powerful book ‘One Day in September’ or watch the documentary (narrated by Michael Douglas) of the same name for free here.
I love the Olympics. I cheer for the US in any sport they’re in, even if it’s an obscure sport I’ve never heard of. And I’m not alone. I root for the same team as every American. Black, white, rich, poor, Muslim, Christian, tall, short, young, old, you name it…we Americans root side-by-side for the team that represents us all. The Olympics are a unifying force that pushes us past our political differences and towards our commonality.
But it’s more than that.
When the Olympics are on, I find myself not just rooting for the US, but for all the athletes. While techniques for the various sports may differ from country to country, the human spirit and drive for excellence is the same. Watching 204 countries representing a beautiful tapestry of humanity, of every color and social class, competing in the same rigidly controlled sports competitions is truly awe-inspiring. As if a thousand accents were all speaking the same language simultaneously around the world.
The magic of the Olympics is the unification of the globe in an apolitical way. It has the power to unite all humankind through our common bonds. And this is why I was disappointed by the choice that was made to not hold a minute of silence for the 11 Olympic athletes murdered 40 years ago.
At the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany, there was a sense of hope reverberating around the globe. A country that was the pariah of the world, an invader of countries and perpetrators of the Holocaust just decades prior was now holding an event to bring the world together. This was an idea celebrated throughout the world, and having Israel, the Jewish State, compete was good for everybody.
Unfortunately, this hope was soon shattered as a terrorist group named ‘Black September’ (named for the Jordanian massacre of Palestinians in September of 1970) simply climbed the fence into the Olympic village and went looking for the Israeli team. Two members of the Olympic delegation from Israel were murdered immediately and nine members were taken hostage with demands that 200 political prisoners be freed from various countries around the world. The Olympics had a decision to make. Do they carry on with the games or do they stop them?
It took 11 hours before Germany stopped the games. After more hours of negotiation and pleading, Germany took the terrorists and the hostages to a nearby airfield where they were supposed to board a plane to escape, but instead were met with snipers who killed all but three of the Black September group. Unfortunately this was a botched mission and before the snipers could kill the terrorists, all the hostages were murdered.
This wasn’t just an attack on Israelis, but also an attack on the idea that the Olympics are a place to rise above politics. We cheer for gold medalists of any competition, not because s/he comes from a specific country, but because we recognize how hard it is to reach true excellence. Conversely, we feel the same way for those athletes who stumble and fall because we have all been there ourselves. We empathize with the athletes because they are all human beings and thus a reflection of our global family. And when members of our family pass away, we hold memorial for them.
It is now 2012 and the 40th anniversary of the 11 murdered in Munich. Many requests were made by Israel and several peace groups to hold a minute of silence during the opening ceremonies. The 1972 Israeli team participated in a global healing process by competing in Germany where 6 million of their people were murdered. The least the Olympic committee can do is spare one minute to pay respect and show solidarity in the same spirit.
I understand, however, that anything having to do with Israel is automatically a politicized issue, and the Olympic committee, as I’ve seen, usually bends to the polemics. This can be seen most recently with news that the Lebanese team has refused to practice next to the Israeli team without a wall being built between them. Instead of the IOC rising above the politics of these countries, they literally put a wall in between them. However, in the greater scheme of things, it does not make a difference if the 11 murdered were Israeli or not. The reality is that those lost could have been any athletes from any country.
I’m disappointed because it is such a rare opportunity that the world has this chance to rise above politics and demonstrate global unity. Holding one minute, not for Israeli athletes, but for the HUMAN athletes would demonstrate that the politics of a terrorist group cannot overrun the games and that the humanity of a global family can shine through.
Just as I would cheer for any athlete winning gold and representing the excellence of mankind or tense up when any athlete from any country stumbles, I would mourn and argue for this moment of silence for any country that had this tragedy befall them. Not for the benefit of the specific country, but for the human spirit of us all. The Munich massacre was not an Israel-specific tragedy, but an Olympic (and therefore global) one.
Yes, memorial services have been held in the past and off-camera remarks have been made with true and sincere caring about the lost athletes. However, the horror of Munich took place in front of the world to politicize an issue and therefore it seems only appropriate to commemorate it by holding a moment of silence in front of the world to see. Just to spare one moment during the opening ceremony would have been a strong showing that we are indeed a world family. We must show those who are against the idea of a global humanity that the Olympic family, as a representation of the world family, doesn’t just let our members be executed and forgotten. I agree with Olympic broadcaster Bob Costas who, before taking a self-imposed on-air 5 seconds of silence during the opening ceremony, said, “…For many, tonight with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost and how and why they died”. There are rare moments in time when we can do the right thing on a global level, and I believe the IOC missed its moment here.
Shortly before being taken hostage, Andre Spitzer, one of the members of the Israeli team, approached a member of the Lebanese team and had a short, cordial conversation with him about sports. Outside of the Olympics, this would have been almost impossible given the political situation. Upon Andre’s return to the Israeli team he remarked, “…that’s exactly what the Olympics are all about; here I can go over and talk to them…you see? This is what I was dreaming about…”
Human commonality and spirit above politics, this is what we should all dream about.
In the face of an Olympic tragedy, an Olympic minute for memorial was asked. One minute to honor those lost. One minute of a three-hour ceremony. One minute to showcase global unity.
The time it took you to read this post was probably about five minutes.