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Friday, September 29, 2000

IOC still ignoring Munich massacre

 SYDNEY -- Twenty-eight years after the murders, there is still no official recognition by the International Olympic Committee.

 There is only silence.

 Almost three decades of IOC silence and shame.

 A crime of terrorism was committed on their property in Munich in 1972, breaching their security, against their athletes, and at no time and no place have the autocrats of the IOC stood up and offered any kind of appropriate consolation.

 This is the seventh Summer Olympic Games since 11 Israeli athletes were murdered in Munich by terrorists. Seven games and still no appropriate memorial.

 In Atlanta, four years ago, a memorial service was held for the athletes who were gunned down. The IOC would not participate. It was a private affair, put on by an American Jewish organization, attended by some of the families of those who were killed and the Israeli athletes who were competing in 1996.

 The IOC was invited to lend its name to the memorial, but apparently it declined. It wasn't something it wanted to acknowledge.

 And yesterday just outside Sydney, on the Hebrew calendar anniversary of the Munich murders, two generations of Israeli athletes were honoured in ceremony. Those alive and those who were shot dead at the 1972 Summer Games.

 Again, the IOC was invited, and again it declined.

 But unlike Atlanta, and unlike anything that has been done in any hosting city of the past seven games, there is here a permanent monument to the dead. There is someone willing to do more than say they are sorry.

 In a warm and moving and troubling ceremony held at a Jewish high school, children were asked to speak, children wrote songs, the youth were made to understand that not every Olympics is incident-free like this one has been. None of the children were alive in 1972 but all them were made to understand.

 With a kind of sensitivity the IOC has always run from.

 Almost a thousand people showed up for the ceremony, not one of them officially connected to the IOC. There were current athletes and past athletes and a great many were part of the large Jewish population of Sydney.

 "It made me cry," said Michael Bar-Joshua, one of about 15 Israeli Olympians attending. Bar-Joshua is a member of the 100-metre relay team here, who will run here first on the Jewish sabbath and if his team qualifies for the final, he will run on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

 "When that little boy sang, I was so touched,'' he said.

 They talk about security and safety for the athletes before and after every Olympic Games, but Munich lingers because it's important and because the IOC has allowed it to linger by never dealing with it face to face.

 Every member should have been forced to hear the children speak, to hear them sing about a tragedy of life and sport, to not turn their backs on the ugliest moments of Olympic history.

 "It was beautiful, but it was also very sad," said high jumper Konstantin Matoussevic, who finished one spot ahead of Mark Boswell in his competition. "Even though time heals, it's good to remember this tragedy.''

 The monument, so long overdue, looks like an Olympic flame extinguished. On the base of the torch, which will never burn, is the name of every slain athlete. There is another monument next to the Olympic Park, the first time a permanent memorial to the Israelis was built at an Olympic venue.

 From an Australian point of view, the subtext of these Olympic Games has been conciliation. Australia has put on a brilliant Games while at the same time trying to begin the healing process of its historical mistreatment of its Aborigines. The symbolic gesture of having Aboriginal runner, Cathy Freeman, lighting the Olympic torch has been interpreted as a reaching out to a troubled past, a reaching out for a better future.

 It is not dissimilar from the kind of gesture the Israelis have looked to the IOC for and never found.

 "Unfortunately, the Olympic Committee didn't mention the 11 athletes in the opening ceremonies,'' said Rogel Nachum, a three-time Olympian. "We are lucky that anywhere we go we find a warm Jewish community that makes us feel at home. The Games are supposed to symbolize friendship and love.''

 But the acknowledgment they want most -- from the IOC -- remains 28 years overdue and counting.