Modest request but leaves a bitter taste

By Martin Bright, July 26, 2012

This week the London Olympics will finally begin and the organisers will hope the carping of the naysayers will be drowned out in a rush of national pride and sporting excellence.

But long after memories of the G4S security fiasco and the "Zil lanes" and the Olympic branding-police have faded, there will still be a bitter taste left in the mouth over a modest request for an overdue tribute to the Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972. A minute of respectful silence: that is all the widows and relatives of the 11 athletes and coaches are asking for. A minute of sobriety out of this two-week carnival.

This was a chance for London to stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims of terrorism, where eight cities had failed before it. But the simplest of human impulses -to honour those cut down before their time - has become entangled in the poisoned politics of the International Olympic Committee.

The most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States, has expressed his support for the silence. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Mayor of London both say they want it to happen. But due to the contractual obligations of the IOC, an Olympic state within a state has been created in which the word of one man is law, that of IOC President Jacques Rogge. And Rogge says no.

All UK government departments concerned with the issue have a craven script to read. The Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport all parrot the same line: "The decision as to whether a minute's silence is held during the Games lies with the International Olympic Committee."

And thus all moral responsibility is shuffled off. The Foreign Office even informed me that there could be no diplomatic row between Britain and Israel on this issue as it had nothing to do with the UK government.

I know David Cameron is aware of how humiliating this is for Britain and for him personally. Following an approach from the Jewish Chronicle and Israel Radio, last-minute discussions were held this week between Downing Street and the London 2012 organising committee Locog to broker a compromise. At the time of going to press Mr Cameron also intended to use his own Olympic press conference to pay tribute to the victims of the 1972 atrocity.

Who knows, by the time this column appears, perhaps Mr Rogge will have been persuaded to do the right thing - although it remains to the shame of the IOC that nothing has been done for 40 years. But what would have happened if the UK government had put its foot down from the outset? With such overwhelming international support, what could Jacques Rogge have done? The IOC cannot declare war, although from the behaviour of some UK officials and politicians, you might imagine it could.

Such is the power of the IOC that Mr Rogge has not even felt the need to provide a coherent argument for his decision. He is a lone voice in suggesting the opening ceremony is not an appropriate moment for such a tribute. But more pernicious still is the idea that a minute's silence would politicise the occasion. According to the Olympic ideal, all competitors are equal participants, divided only by performance in their chosen discipline.

Except, it seems, for Israeli athletes, stripped of their humanity by the terrorists, and again by the IOC, which refuses to allow the world to pay tribute to them not as political figures, but as Olympians murdered in the cruellest fashion.

    Last updated: 8:51am, July 27 2012