Costas' Olympic Torch Song

By Brian P. Dunleavy
July 31, 2012

NBC’s Bob Costas took it upon himself Friday night to remember the victims of the terrorist attack on the Olympic Village in Munich in 1972 during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Games in London.

In so doing, he highlighted the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) refusal to honor a request on the part of Israel to include some form of remembrance for the so-called “Munich 11” during the ceremonies in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the attacks. The committee’s decision sparked outrage in Israel, of course, and among many in the U.S., where support for the Jewish state is largely unwavering.

Too bad the IOC was right.

No one with an ounce of humanity in their soul denies that what happened in Munich nearly 40 years ago was tragic. Attackers believed to be affiliated with a Palestinian group Black September raided the Israeli team compound at the Olympic Village—some say with the assistance of German neo-Nazis—and took dozens of athletes and coaches hostage. By the time the siege was over, 11 Israeli Olympians had been killed.

At the time, much of the world rightly condemned the attack. And it still should. However, the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games, which are at least supposed to be apolitical, is not the time or the place to reaffirm said condemnation—first of all, because anniversaries are largely arbitrary and subjective and, secondly, because much has changed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the 40 years since the events in Munich.

In recent years, for instance, the world has become more aware of the consequences of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Some have cited human rights violations; others have referred to the blockade as modern-day apartheid. Many nations in Europe, some of whom have supported Israel in the past, have expressed concerns about the current conditions facing Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. There are differing takes on these issues, of course, and the battle lines have been drawn—and redrawn—for decades.

With such acrimony (to put it mildly) surrounding the ongoing struggles for peace in the region, why should the IOC make the Games part of the debate? The organization has already agreed to participate in a remembrance event to be held in September, on the actual 40th anniversary of the siege. And that should be enough. Let the politicians and diplomats sort through the mess, as they have tried to do for decades (if not centuries) and let sport be a reprieve from it all, as it should be.

Olympic athletes have already been caught in the crossfire in the ongoing dispute in the Middle East—to tragic consequences. There is no need to make a new generation of athletes—even without the bloodshed—experience that again.


About the author: Brian P. Dunleavy is a writer who lives in New York.



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