Why? No proper answer

When a veteran Israeli journalist asked Lord Coe, the chairman of the London Games, if he could address the vexed question of the missing minute's silence for the murdered Israeli athletes at the Games' Opening Ceremony, the response was extraordinary.

"That's an impertinent question," he said. "Impertinent?" responded the Israeli journalist. "It's a very sensitive matter in my country."

"It's sensitive here, too," said Lord Coe, turning on his heel.

A few minutes later, I caught up with the former Olympic athlete, during the reception at London's Guildhall. Lord Coe had previously said that he would mark the deaths in his own way, although he was not prepared to expand on what form that would take.

"I know you are very busy, Lord Coe," I began. "But could I ask you one question?" Before I even had a chance to frame it, Sebastian Coe barked at me: "It's not appropriate. This is personal." And he ran off. Literally.

So perhaps, giving him the benefit of the doubt, Lord Coe was rushing to a private place to think his own thoughts about the 11 Israeli athletes who were killed by Black September terrorists in Munich's Olympic Village.

Later, I encountered a government minister, whose blushes I shall spare by not naming him. We had a similarly gnomic conversation when I asked why the British government seemed unable to tackle the International Olympic Committee on this apparently insignificant issue that has been allowed to assume such international proportions. The minister said sharply: "I am not getting into this. It was a matter for the IOC." But Britain was the host country for the Games, I said. "That's not the point". It was all a matter for the IOC. So was the IOC accountable to nobody? "It's accountable to the IOC," he said, somewhat confusingly.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also sang from the same hymn sheet when he told me that it had been "very important" to have a minute's silence at the Athletes' Village, a somewhat hole-in-the-corner impromptu event in front of about 30 people, before the Games opened.

But the mayor can usually be depended on to go off-message.

In "an ideal world", said Boris, "I would have liked a minute's silence at the Opening Ceremony."

At last. A reasonable reply to an "impertinent, inappropriate" question.

Last updated: 3:45pm, August 9 2012