OP-ED: An Olympic moment
By ALAN SMASON
It’s taken a year, but the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, officially the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, are now underway. In the interest of public safety amidst a worldwide pandemic (which has largely subsided, but is still a clear and present danger), crowds have been prevented from assembling to witness the feats of the Olympic heroes and athletes who hail from 206 countries and territories.
But, despite restrictions from in-person gatherings, the world will be witness to what goes on in Tokyo. Through the all-seeing lens of expansive TV coverage, a ringside, poolside or courtside seat for all of the Olympic competition will be seen –like it or not – over the course of the next two weeks. Coming around every four years – the modern Olympic Games are intended to breed respect and admiration between athletes and nations in a spirit of friendly competition.
But 49 years ago, in Munich, the world saw how the specter of hate could spill over and end in violence and death for 11 competitors and coaches representing Israel. The Black September terrorist group infiltrated the Olympic village, overran the thin security there and killed two members of the Israeli delegation before adducting nine other captors. Both the terrorists and the captured Israelis were killed in a fusillade of bullets and a grenade from responding police and military that shattered the peace of 1972’s Games of the XX Olympiad.
But because the nation who suffered the loss was Israel, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is charged with sponsoring the Olympic Games, was slow to respond with a proper acknowledgment or memorial to the victims. In previous Opening Ceremonies, Russian Jews carried a flag of Israel to denote their solidarity with the worldwide Jewish community. Calls for a tribute or memorial ceremony were spearheaded by two of the widows of the Israeli victims in the tragedy. But the IOC countered in 2012 that the Opening Ceremonies in London were an “inappropriate” place to hold such a memorial and that to do so would be “divisive.”
Bowing to pressure, the IOC did hold a memorial ceremony for the 11 coaches and athletes who where slain in Munich. But the memorial ceremony was held two days before the Opening Ceremonies for the XXXI Games of the Olympiad in Rio de Janiero, Brazil in 2016. It was two days before the eyes of the world were focused on the coverage.
But until today, almost a half-century after the tragedy, there was doubt the IOC and the world would ever properly honor the innocent victims of violence.
Just as it took time for the Tokyo Olympic Games to be held safely, it took time for world opinion to shift and for the IOC to honor those whose lives were cut short by terrorists.
Just prior to the entrance of the Olympic competitors today, a moment of silence in honor of the Israeli victims was held and presided over by Emperor Naruhito of Japan and the president and other officials of the IOC.
It is said that time heals all wounds. Perhaps that is true. But for Israel and the world Jewish community a big step was taken today by the IOC in paying homage to the Israeli athletes, who were innocent victims of unbridled hate and terrorism.
It’s about time.