By Jason Stverak | Franklin Center
The Olympic Games are a time when nations put away their differences in the name of friendly competition and sportsmanship. For the State of Israel each Olympiad is a sad reminder of terrorism and not a celebration of the Olympic Spirit.
Forty years ago this September, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered at the Olympic Games in Munich by the terrorist group Black September. At the time, people around the world were reminded that even though a generation had passed since the Holocaust – not enough had changed.
The Games of the XXX Olympiad in London began with an opening ceremony that included James Bond and the Queen of England jumping out of a plane, a tribute to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service and a memorable performance of “Hey Jude” by Paul McCartney. What it did not include was a tribute or moment of silence for the 11 Israelis murdered 40 years ago.
Despite calls from President Obama and leaders in Canada, Germany, Italy and Australia, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge refused to permit any mention of the “Munich Massacre” during the opening ceremony.
Still, the world would remember what happened that terrible September day in Germany, and the voice of decency would come from one journalist calling the ceremony as he would a sporting event.
NBC sportscaster Bob Costas has been broadcasting the Olympic Games for 20 years. He has called some of the most memorable sports moments over the past three decades. This time, his play-by-play included the most important color-commentary of his career.
As the Israeli Olympic team walked the track of Olympic Stadium, Costas made sure the world remembered Munich:
“The Israeli athletes now enter behind their flag-bearer Shahar Zubari,” said Costas. “These games mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 tragedy in Munich, when 11 Israeli coaches and athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. There have been calls from a number of quarters for the IOC to acknowledge that, with a moment of silence at some point in tonight’s ceremony. The IOC denied that request, noting it had honored the victims on other occasions. And, in fact, this week [IOC president] Jacques Rogge led a moment of silence before about 100 people in the athlete’s village. Still, for many, tonight, with the world watching is the true time and place to remember those who were lost, and how and why they died.”
Costas than paused and there was silence for over five seconds as television camera showed the Israeli athletes continuing their march in the stadium.
He then broke for commercial with, “We’re back to London after this.”
Costas had the courage – humanity – to pay tribute to athletes murdered during Olympic Games. I applaud him for his ability to embrace the Olympic Spirit and pay tribute to the young athletes who were murdered 40 years ago for no other reason than being Israeli.
Jason Stverak is president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.