The Olympics: Non-Political, Right? (Not)

Everyone talks about the IOC’s status as a political-neutral organization. The Olympics bring together the best athletes from around the world, regardless of whether they are from a Communist country, a Capitalist country, or even a country with gross human rights violations. The IOC even goes so far as to ban countries whose governments interfere with their sports programs. Afghanistan was banned from the 2000 Olympics because the Taliban-backed government refused to allow women to compete in sports. South Africa was banned during apartheid, from 1964 until 1992. Iraq was almost banned in 2008 for political interference.

Then there was that one time when politics sadly played too great of a role in the Olympics. The day was September 5, 1972. The time, early morning, around 4:30 in Munich. A 8-man Islamic terrorist group, associated with Black September, climbed over the fence into the athletes village. Two members of the Israeli delegation were killed. Nine more were taken hostage by the terrorists. All nine were later killed after a failed attempt by the Germans to save them.

The International Olympic Committee considers this a political act. That is the official reason why the eleven athletes were not mentioned during the Opening Ceremony last Friday, 40 years after they were killed. But, let’s take politics, religion, country and everything else out of it for a second. Eleven athletes were killed by armed terrorists. They didn’t die doing what they loved, as some sadly have during Olympic competition. They died because someone didn’t believe they should be allowed to do what they loved.

Brian Williams of CTV got himself in some hot water during the Opening Ceremony when he mentioned this 11 athletes as the current Israeli athletes marched into the Olympic Stadium. Here is what Williams said.

“As Israel prepares to enter, my position is well known. It is one that I have taken at previous Olympics. It is wrong that the IOC refuses to have a minute’s silence for Israeli athletes that were slaughtered in Munich.”

Many came to this blog to mention that Williams shouldn’t be allowed to share his political opinions during a sports broadcast. First, it wasn’t a political opinion. A political opinion would have been decrying Russia or China for voting against the UN in sanctions against the Assad government. All Williams said is athletes who died in Munich should be honoured. Which, if you can’t tell, I agree with.

I also agree with Williams’ ability to speak on the issue. He is the voice of Olympics broadcasting in Canada. His opinions should matter as much as anyone else’s on such issues. If there is one thing he has gained in his 35 years of Olympic broadcasting, it is the right to speak his mind when the IOC screws up (or at least he believes it has). Sure he overshadowed the Israeli athletes, maybe wrongly so. But I don’t think any of them would disagree with the ’72 athletes getting attention.

My only problem with Williams’ statement was the timing. Maybe it wasn’t the wrong time, but I’m not sure it was the right time either. Brian has four hours on Olympic Primetime every night. He also has a certain amount of control on what airs on that broadcast. I would have preferred for CTV to do a short 15-30 minute piece, augmented by Williams’ views on the IOC not recognizing the athletes, on what happened on that fateful day. It is something difficult to grasp for someone like me who wasn’t alive at the time.

It probably would have been more powerful than a quick mention during a mostly happy event, like the Opening Ceremony. The bit during the Opening Ceremony got my attention, and many other Canadians as well, apparently. The question is, did it have any kind of lasting effect.

It is also worth noting that Williams commended the IOC for pressuring Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, into allowing their women to compete in the Olympics. Now here is where I draw a connection that I hope isn’t true. Saudi Arabia is one of many Arab countries that doesn’t recognize Israel as a country. They obviously wouldn’t want Israeli athletes to be honoured. The IOC was willing to bend over backwards so they could say that for the first time ever all countries competing in the Olympics are sending female athletes.

8 thoughts on “The Olympics: Non-Political, Right? (Not)

  1. I definitely think that the IOC should have a moment’s silence to honour those athletes who lost their lives in that terrorist attack. The IOC’s refusal is obviously political as they are trying to placate the Arab countries.

  2. Good post.

    1. it happened at an Olympic event
    2. it happened to Olympic athletes

    in my mind that makes it an Olympic story. The IOC’s stance is weak and reeks of cowardice. Honouring dead athletes who died during an Olympic event is the least they should do.

  3. Point of clarification: Black September was a Palestinian organization. Palestinian people were pretty evenly split between Muslims and Christians in 1948. The mainstream media has propogated the myth that most Palestinians are Muslims.

    I am glad Brian Williams made his comments.

    • I don’t think it was 50/50. Most Palestinians are Muslims, it isn’t a myth. Of the current Israeli and Palestine territories, some 50%+ are Muslims, with Jews and Christians combining to equal the other 50% or so.

  4. My one issue with Williams’ comments was that he didn’t acknowledge that the IOC did hold an (albeit very small) event honouring the victims of the Munich tragedy in the days leading up to the Opening Ceremony. By not addressing that, Williams made the impression to the viewing audience that the IOC was ignoring the issue altogether. Bob Costas, who earlier said that he would use the entrance of the Israeli team to condemn the IOC’s failure to hold a moment of silence, at least acknowledged the IOC’s small ceremony during NBC’s broadcast.

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