In the history of the modern Olympic Games there have been many scandals but only one terrorist massacre. The 1972 Games in Munich will forever be remembered because Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes there in cold blood. But this summer when the Games reconvene in London there will be neither an official remembrance nor even a moment of silence in honor of the fallen Israelis. Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, flatly denied requests from the State of Israel and members of the United States Congress for a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies in London. The reason for this refusal is clear. Any reminder of that historic crime would offend the vast majority of member nations that participate in the Games who don’t want any mention of an event that puts the Palestinians in a bad light.
This is an outrage that should not pass unnoticed by those who promote and profit from the two-week-long television program that mostly features competitions in sports few will care about during the rest of this or any other year. Rogge and his predecessors have always condemned the politicization of sports–the reason many in the Olympic movement give for choosing to forget about Munich. But the toxic mix of nationalism and athletics has always been at the heart of the Games. While the athletes who participate deserve both respect and admiration, the decision to ignore Munich is just the latest illustration of the moral bankruptcy of the Games. Though we will hear much about the “Olympic Spirit” during the endless promotion of this event, it is and always has been a gigantic fraud that has always preferred to appease tyrants and ignore crimes in the pursuit of building a global business brand.
The popularity of the Games is undeniable, and any effort to punish the IOC or even boycott the opening ceremonies over the issue of ignoring Munich is bound to fail. The people of the world want their bread and circuses, and if the prospect of honoring Adolf Hitler and the Nazis as the Olympics did in 1936, the Soviet Communism (1980) or the tyrants of Beijing (2008) could not derail the show, then it isn’t likely that many will care about sweeping the memory of Munich under the rug in London this year. Though President Jimmy Carter made the Soviets pay a price for their invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 when he ordered the boycott of the Moscow Olympics — one of the few things for which one of our worst presidents deserves credit — the Games are now too big a business to be affected, let alone stopped by moral considerations.
There is a popular mythology that has grown up about the moral value of this international sports tournament that was promoted by the skillful documentaries created by the late Bud Greenspan. But though the Games can be fun, Greenspan’s wide-eyed belief in the majesty of sports triumphing over intolerance and division was always pure baloney.
We cannot force the Games or the sports establishment to remember the 11 Israelis or even acknowledge their indifference to the massacre. But we can at least stop pretending there is anything happening in London this summer that has intrinsic or moral value and not simply sporting significance. The Olympics are the sports equivalent of the United Nations, a high-minded ideal that is, in practice, merely the assemblage of rogues who pervert the concept to pursue their own often scandalous objectives. Though you may like the show, the Games deserve our scorn, not our admiration.