You can choose your friends…

Much was written on these pages in the days and weeks leading up to the London Olympics about the refusal of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow for one minute of silence during the opening ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the murder of Israeli Olympians during the Munich games.

The excuses ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, one of which, given by Jacques Rogge, President of the IOC himself, was that the Opening Ceremony was no place for a remembrance. Interestingly, ironically and somewhat bizarrely, there was time for a wall of memory for family members of those present in the stadium, turning the mood sombre, even if just fleetingly so.

That was all the families of the victims of Munich ’72 were asking.

Just a moment of remembrance. They were denied it.

Evidence has recently come to light that, not only did the German authorities at the time have concrete warning that an attack was imminent, but also that there have been multiple cover-ups since then. Files recently released by the State Archives (links can be found in this previous ToI article) in Israel have provided further insight into the failed rescue attempts, where German forces fled their posts in protest at the fact that they were being tasked to do a job they had never trained for.

The IOC regularly waves its banner that the Olympics are about bringing together a family, where politics are put to one side and the sporting community can come together as one.

A family is there whether you like it or not, through thick and thin, mourning sad events as much as it celebrates happier times. The opportunity for the Olympic Family to spend just one minute in solemn remembrance may have been incongruous with the celebratory nature of the Opening Ceremony, but on the other hand it would have made it much more poignant.

This family had a chance to show a sense of unity, to share the pain and grief that one of its members felt all too sharply. Instead, they chose the path of least resistance and in so doing showed that money (as well as fear and politics) is thicker than blood. Of course, they wouldn’t want to be accused of racism, either.

“You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.” (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee)

Judging by Harper Lee’s standards, the IOC in general and Jacques Rogge in particular, look “right silly.” As did the various contestants from Arab states who refused to compete against, or even train in the same room, as Israeli athletes.

On a day like today, where remembrance is once again brought to the fore, the tight-knit family closes ranks, embraces one another in a show of solidarity and vows to keep fighting back.

As for the rest of the family, the long-lost cousins who only get together at four-yearly intervals, it’s hard to tell what will happen as the years count down to Rio and 2016. Perhaps, by then, barricades won’t need erecting in training rooms so that Lebanese eyes aren’t burnt by the sight of their Jewish neighbours, and a racetrack might be shared by an Israeli and one of their Arab brethren without the latter being suddenly overcome with a mystery illness.

In the meantime, it transpires that the oh-so-familial Mr Rogge wasn’t able to wave his loving Olympic family goodbye at the closing ceremony due to an operation to replace his hip.

I wonder if they do backbone replacements too?

May the memories of the eleven Israelis murdered on this day in 1972 be remembered and cherished by all, family and friends alike.

About the Author
An Israeli who's returned home after ten years serving the London public as a Paramedic. Author of