Lawmakers Call On Olympics To Honor 1972 Victims

Jul 25, 2012
Originally published on July 29, 2012 8:19 am
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Friday's opening ceremony at the London Olympics promises to be a spectacle of sight and sound, but recent discussions about the ceremony are focused on silence. A variety of voices have been requesting a moment of silence to honor the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team who were killed in 1972 in a terrorist attack at the Munich summer games. So far, the International Olympic Committee has said no, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports from London.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The question whether to have a moment of silence at the London opening ceremony has been bubbling for weeks now, but Steve Gold says, actually, it's been an issue ever since the 11 Israelis died four decades ago.

STEVE GOLD: The families have been asking for 40 years.

GOLDMAN: What's kicked it into high gear now from widespread public support to political backing by world leaders, such as President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, is a grassroots campaign spearheaded largely by Gold. He's a member of The Jewish Federation of Rockland County, New York, and he spoke today on a teleconference about his Minute of Silence Munich 11 petition.

GOLD: The outpouring is outrageous. To get 100,000 signatures and 150 world leaders to sign, the IOC has noticed.

GOLDMAN: But so far held its ground. Here's IOC President Jacques Rogge this past Saturday.

JACQUES ROGGE: We feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragical incident.

GOLDMAN: Even though the opening ceremony has served that purpose in the past.

DAVID WALLECHINSKY: They also had a moment of silence for Sarajevo at the opening ceremony, and they did it also back in the '60s once, in the Winter Olympics, because two athletes had died in training before the games began.

GOLDMAN: Olympic historian David Wallechinsky says, also, there was a remembrance of 9/11 at the 2002 Salt Lake City games, which has raised questions as to why the IOC remains steadfast in its opposition to a Munich remembrance in the Olympics' grand opening event. Beyond President Rogge's explanation, there's speculation it has something to do specifically with Israel. That argument got traction from Israeli IOC member Alex Gilady. He said he didn't support a commemoration because it would threaten the unity of the Olympic movement.

Gilady was quoted as saying he would not give Israel's enemies an excuse to boycott the London games. When asked about the fear of boycott, IOC official Thomas Bach said that's not the primary question to ask. The IOC's major concern, he said, is the charitable commemoration of the victims. The IOC has detailed all it's done over the years - appearing at annual Munich commemorations, planning several this year in Germany, holding a moment of silence this week at the athletes' village in London.

Not enough, says Lenny Krayzelburg. The former Olympic swimmer and four-time gold medalist took part in today's teleconference.

LENNY KRAYZELBURG: The whole world witnessed the tragedy that happened in '72, and it only is appropriate that the whole world on Friday witnesses and hopefully experience the minute of silence.

GOLDMAN: Late today, widows of two of the slain Israelis delivered the petition with more than 107,000 signatures to IOC president Rogge. One of the women, Anke Spitzer(ph), said Rogge refused the call for a minute of silence. She said that was a severe blow to the Olympic ideals. Spitzer urged spectators at Friday's opening ceremony to stand in silent protest when Rogge gets up to speak. Tom Goldman, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.