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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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The difference of a minute, 40 years late

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Robert Sarner

With the much-anticipated 2012 Summer Olympics soon to kick off in London, there’s great speculation in Canada over how our athletes will fare at the Games. While I hope they’ll be triumphant, Canada already deserves a gold medal for an Olympic-related action off the field, an action that should be the source of great pride for all those who still subscribe to the original, albeit tarnished, ideals of the Olympics.

A few weeks ago, Canada became the first country to officially call on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to hold a minute of silence at the Games in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slain by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972. The vote in Parliament, passed unanimously, came after two Canadian cabinet ministers wrote to IOC president Jacques Rogge in support of a formal commemoration of the murdered sportsmen on the 40th anniversary of the massacre.

Since Israel made its request to the IOC in April on behalf of families of the victims, a growing number of people around the world have raised their voices for such a long-overdue gesture. In late June, others followed Canada’s lead as the U.S. Senate and the Australian House of Representatives both unanimously passed resolutions calling on the IOC to reverse its position. Germany’s foreign minister also weighed in similarly. 

So far, true to form, the IOC will hear none of it. Over the years, it has steadfastly refused proposals from the athletes’ relatives for a minute of silence at the Games, saying it would politicize the Games. This despite politics often being inextricably linked to the Olympics. At the 2008 and 2004 Olympics, Iran and Syria ordered their athletes not to compete against their Israeli counterparts in protest of the Jewish state, without the IOC doing anything. At the 2002 Winter Olympics, the IOC allowed the U.S. team to walk in the opening ceremonies with a flag recovered from the ruins of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York. In 1936, the IOC yielded to Hitler as he stage-managed the Berlin Games to glorify Nazi Germany.

It’s also worth noting the IOC has previously remembered deceased Olympic athletes during the Games. Two years ago at the Vancouver Olympics, a moment of silence was held during the opening ceremony for a Georgian luge competitor who died during a training accident.

The IOC’s position on the Israeli athletes is a travesty of the values it claims to uphold. It’s consistent with the organization’s time-honoured hypocrisy and corruption, and its draconian, Orwellian copyright enforcement.

With its greedy servitude to corporate money and political interests, including some of the world’s worst dictatorships, the IOC seems to have forgotten that its priority is supposed to be the athletes. This latest disgrace adds to the litany of IOC transgressions spanning decades. Little wonder there’s so much disillusionment over the Olympics and cynicism at the sight of the shamelessly overcommercialzed five rings.

As columnist Rosie DiManno wrote so trenchantly in a recent column in the Toronto Star: “Four decades after the Munich Massacre, the Lords of the Rings continue to act as if 11 Israelis were never murdered by Palestinian terrorists smack in the middle of their gaudy sports spectacle – an atrocity that was not allowed to interfere with those 1972 Games, which proceeded as if nothing untoward had happened. Through nine Summer Olympiads since, the IOC has staunchly refused to hold any official observance for the slain Israelis. They talk a good game – the global community of athletes, the spirit of brotherhood and peaceful competition – but it is hokum, the mendacity of satraps with selective amnesia and slippery virtue.”

It’s heartening to see such moral outrage mounting. With the clock ticking down to the opening ceremonies in London on July 27, an international movement is now gaining ground to get the IOC to reverse its position. In addition to a global online petition that’s attracted 88,609 signatures as of this printing (and continues to grow), public officials in half a dozen countries have come out in favour of the commemoration of the Israeli athletes. With any luck, it will move the IOC to finally see the light and do the right thing. It would make for what would likely be the most poignant, most dignified minute at the London Olympics.

Robert Sarner is director of communication and public affairs at Roots Canada.

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