Forty years ago, athletes from countries around the world were completing their training, attending good luck send-offs, and packing their gear to depart for the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich.
None of them imagined a terrible tragedy would take place during the Games. In the early morning hours of September 5, 1972, eight members of a Palestinian militant group called Black September broke into the Munich Olympic village and killed an Israeli athlete and coach in the dormitory, while nine others – four athletes, three coaches, and two referees – were taken hostage. Less than twenty four hours later, after several failed rescue attempts and a gun fight that left a German police officer dead, the nine hostages were also killed. This horrible tragedy touched the lives of millions as it played out on television around the globe.
The massacre of the Munich 11 was a jarring reminder that the Olympic Games – long a symbol of international cooperation and camaraderie – are not wholly divorced from the hatred and intolerance that still exists throughout the world. Such a tragedy should not be relegated to the long forgotten past. Rather, we believe that a minute of silence at this year’s games in London would be a powerful reminder that such terrible acts of violence will not go unremembered, and that all those witnessing the Opening Ceremonies must continue to work toward a world where people of any nation, race, or religion can live free of fear.
Unfortunately, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has rejected our and others’ request for a minute of silence. We are not persuaded by arguments that a minute of silence to honor the victims would politicize the Olympic Games or risk alienating countries that have disagreements with Israel. The Munich 11 were athletes, coaches, and referees proudly representing their country when they were gunned down in an act of terrorism. A minute of silence would be a recognition of their sacrifice and a show of unity against terrorism, not an endorsement of any political position.
According to The Nielsen Company, over two billion people watched the Beijing Olympic Ceremonies. This summer’s London Games could reach even more. The Olympics provide a unique opportunity to send a message that can touch every corner of the globe. While the Opening Ceremonies will be – and should be – a joyful celebration of the international community putting aside political differences and coming together for a time-honored tradition of friendly competition, taking a single minute of those Ceremonies to remind the world of the forces that still threaten that unity would be both powerful and appropriate.
That is why the resolution, which we recently introduced in the House, not only calls on the IOC to hold a minute of silence to mark the tragedy of forty years ago, but urges the House of Representatives to take a moment in silence to remember the victims of this terrible act of terrorism.
The Olympic Games are more than just a swim meet or a javelin throw. They represent a time when the world comes together in friendship to honor the commitment of thousands of athletes to competition and the spirit of sport. We know of no better way to honor the participants than to hold a minute of silence at the London Games in honor of the Munich 11 so that 40 years later the world can say as one, “We remember. “
Eliot Engel is the U.S. Representative for New York's 17th District and serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Nita Lowey is the U.S. Representative for New York's 18th District and serves in the Appropriations Committee and the subcommittees on State and Foreign Operations.
Both are Democrats.