Rogge fails to inspire generation touched by tragedy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:20pm


The motto of these Games is 'inspire a generation' but there has been a volley of cries in London to remember the last. The call to do so is ringing painfully in the ears of IOC chief Jacques Rogge, a former Olympic sailor who has so far enjoyed plain sailing at these Games. Sure, there were white tops to the waves - security and seating - as the London Games navigated out of the harbour. But on reaching open waters, the medals started to flow and helmsman Rogge has been taking the salute as any chuffed commodore might when the visibility is crystal clear and all is calm.

But he smacked into an unexpected storm this week when the widow of one of the Israeli athletes killed by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games led a blistering attack on the IOC when he attended a London memorial service.

Addressing an audience of senior British and Israeli politicians, Ankie Spitzer loaded her verbal cannon and struck home - blaming the IOC for blocking an Israeli request to hold a minute of silence at the opening ceremony of all Olympics for the 11 sportsmen and coaches murdered in Munich 40 years ago.

'Only the IOC remains deaf and blind,' she said, turning from the podium at the Guildhall, London, to face Rogge. 'Is the IOC only interested in power, money and politics? Our loved ones came back in coffins yet they were part of the Olympic family.'

Israel has organised a commemoration on the fringes of Olympic Games since 2000 and Rogge has taken part since the Athens Games in 2004. He held a surprise tribute in the London Olympic Village before the opening ceremony. And he no doubt read the forecast before attending what was bound to be an emotional service - after all, what experienced yachtsman-turned-sport statesman does not look up at the clouds and check for flotsam before deciding whether to don a sou'wester or sun hat when venturing out on deck?

Sensing the emotional front that might greet him in the Guildhall, he delivered a short, tempered speech deploring terrorism, which, though mild, went further than his previous statements on the Munich massacre. 'We are all here today because we share a duty to those innocent victims and to history to make sure the lessons of 1972 are never forgotten,' he said.

But his attempt to appease the audience was scuppered. Munich has become as crucial to the Israeli historical narrative as the holocaust. 'Shame!' members of the audience started to shout. Spitzer, whose husband Andre was the Israel fencing coach and a referee, was inspired by her supporters. 'Shame on you IOC because you have forgotten 11 members of the Olympic family,' she said in another withering salvo. 'You're discriminating against them only because they are Israelis and Jews.'

Her claims about IOC discrimination may be judged wide of the mark but they struck a chord. London 2012 is a roaring success, not just for the hosts. The sport has been a compelling celebration of human endeavour, fan culture and ramshackle but effective organisation.

But amid the media hype demanding we lose ourselves and forget our woes in the unbridled Olympic enthusiasm at these 'incredible', 'amazing', 'brilliant', Games, it does appear we have forgotten that 11 innocent Olympians were murdered because of their love of sport.

On the morning of September 5, 1972, with six days left in the Games, eight terrorists stormed the Munich Olympic Village and raided the Israeli contingent's apartment. They demanded the release of more than 200 Palestinians serving time in Israeli jails, along with two renowned German terrorists.

Two Israeli athletes were killed and nine more were seized as hostages, who were taken to the military airport in Munich for a flight back to the Middle East. There, German troops opened fire, killing three of the Palestinians. The ensuring gun battle claimed the lives of all nine of the hostages and two terrorists.

There is growing support for a minute of silence to remember the 11. International pressure - including from the Obama administration - to properly honour the Olympic dead is increasing.

Athletes are also weighing in. American gymnast Aly Raisman revealed her gold medal-winning floor routine was a tribute to the 1972 victims. The 18-year-old said her soundtrack - a traditional music used for wedding dances and bat mitzvah - was 'a response to IOC failure' to mark the 40th anniversary of the tragedy.

'I can only imagine how painful it must be for the families and close personal friends of the victims,' she said. 'I am Jewish, that's why I wanted that floor music,' she told the New York Post.

Back at the Guildhall, the Israeli minister of culture and sport, Limor Livnat, announced to the audience and the IOC that 'silence in the face of evil affords evil victory'. Other speakers at the memorial included British Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy of the coalition government, Nick Clegg. They cleverly sidestepped the thorny issue of the minute of silence as they condemned terrorism per se.

But Rogge was left in no doubt that the campaign to have the athletes officially and internationally recognised every four years will traverse the Atlantic and be heard loud and clear at the 2016 Rio Games.

The one-minute silence divides opinion. But it is right that we inspire the next generation of athletes and Olympic sports fans, and in doing so the Olympic family must not be afraid of those past chapters - the skeletons rattling at the back of the trophy cabinet - that cause it to blush and cast its heads down in shame and remorse.

The Munich tragedy is not exclusively part of the fabric of Israel's history. It is a main thread of the modern Olympics and it reinforces its ideals of unity with a double stitch. Olympic moments, the good, the bad and the evil, connect us all.

There was a standing ovation for Spitzer. Rogge remained seated, weathering the unexpected typhoon and enduring his own, forced minute of silence for the forgotten generation.