TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Forty years after 11 Israelis were killed by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Games, the families of the dead are urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to organize an official commemoration.
Two widows of athletes who were killed have long campaigned for the 1972 victims to be remembered at Olympic opening ceremonies - either through the IOC president’s welcome speech or with a moment of silence - but they fear their call for a commemoration in London on July 27 will again be ignored.
“We want the International Olympic Committee ... with all 10,000 young athletes in front of them, to say: ‘Let us not forget what happened in Munich’. (We want this) only for one reason, so it will never happen again,” said Ankie Spitzer, whose fencing coach husband, Andre, was one of the 11 Israelis killed.
She said the IOC did not want to mention the tragedy at high profile events such as the opening ceremony as it would annoy Arab countries.
“They say we bring politics into the Olympics, which is not true, because I didn’t ask them to say that there were 11 Israelis. They tell us that the Arab delegations will get up and leave, to which I said: ‘It’s okay, if they don’t understand what the Olympics are all about, let them leave.'”
Although the IOC participates in remembrance services organized by others, it has yet to arrange its own memorial, a senior Israeli Olympic Committee official said.
“Whenever we have discussed the issue with the IOC, our position has always been, at every meeting, that the time has come for the International Olympic Committee to initiate its own commemoration,” Efraim Zinger, secretary general of the Olympic Committee of Israel, told Reuters.
The IOC said in a written response that the Munich 11 had not been forgotten and it would continue to attend commemorative events, including in London in the second week of the Games organized by the Israeli Olympic Committee.
“London will be no exception. There will be an event at the Guildhall, which the IOC president is expected to attend,” the IOC told Reuters.
Zinger said the IOC should be more pro-active.
“Jacques Rogge is the first incumbent president to have participated in our commemoration ceremony and we are very appreciative and thankful, but the Olympics, while comprised of many moments of glory, unfortunately have also had their moments of gloom and the IOC cannot ignore them,” he said.
On September 5, 1972, members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage at the poorly secured athletes’ village by Palestinian gunmen from the Black September group.
Within 24 hours, 11 Israelis, five Palestinians and a German policeman were dead after a standoff and subsequent rescue effort erupted into gunfire.
Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Joseph Romano, told Reuters they will not let the matter rest.
“They were shot because they were Olympic athletes, they were sons of the Olympic movement, they were invited by the Olympic movement ... recognize them, give them their moment’s silence ... the IOC must commemorate so that all the world will see. And they should want it, because history could repeat itself,” Romano said.
But Israel’s influential IOC member, Alex Gilady, an ex-journalist who covered the Munich Games for Israeli television, said he was unsure if a commemoration at the opening ceremony was appropriate or necessary.
“I‘m not sure what is so special about the number 40. I was sure that the number four was much more critical. The Israeli Olympic Committee, at the time in Montreal in 1976, could have demanded a memorial and they didn’t ask for a memorial then; not in 1980 ... not in ‘84 when in Los Angeles this would have been almost definite ... to happen; not in ‘88, not in ‘92,” he said.
Dutch-born Spitzer disputed Gilady’s assertion, saying she was party to appeals for commemorations at opening ceremonies of subsequent Games, all of which had been ignored.
“I spoke to Jacques Rogge, not once, not twice, not three times ... he said ‘it’s not time yet, we cannot do it yet’ ... (but) my patience is up,” she said.
Gilady said singling out the Israelis for commemoration was “not easy to do,” especially since other countries have also experienced Olympic tragedies, such as the two people who died after a bomb exploded at the Olympic Park during the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“Maybe the Israelis want to stop it at the 11, as if that is the only tragedy that happened. It is not easy to do, we have to consider many, many other elements and I don’t know the answer, if it is time or not. I hope the time will come,” he said.
Romano said next generations would continue the campaign.
“We have sown the seeds of remembrance over 40 years ... that are now sprouting among our children and our grandchildren.”
The IOC said the Munich dead would remain in its focus: “One thing is certain: We will never forget,” its statement concluded.
Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann in Berlin, Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Pritha Sarkar