Munich massacre widows attack Rogge for silence ban

By Jenni Frazer, August 7, 2012
Jacques Rogge

Jacques Rogge

Two of the Munich massacre widows, Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, made a bitter personal attack on the International Olympics Committee president, Jacques Rogge, at the official Guildhall ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 murders of 11 Israeli athletes.

Before a nearly 1,000-strong audience, Mrs Romano, widow of the weightlifter Yosef Romano, declared to Dr Rogge: "You will be written down in the pages of history as a former athlete, who became a president, and violated the Olympic Charter calls for brotherhood, friendship and peace…your way is the way of ignoring and denial. Remember, the very last breaths of our loved ones were taken under the five Olympic rings, which are still bleeding."

Ankie Spitzer, widow of the fencing coach Andre Spitzer, was even more scathing. She told Jacques Rogge: "Shame on you IOC, because you have forgotten 11 members of the Olympic Family. You are discriminating against them only because they are Israelis and Jews.

"We will come back until we hear the words you need to say, because you owe them.

"Those who forget history are bound to repeat it.

"Sometimes I wonder if I am the last person left who believes in the Olympic ideals.

"Is the IOC only interested in power, money and politics... did they forget they are supposed to promote peace, brotherhood and fair play?

"My husband Andre was chosen to go to the Olympics, probably with the same dreams as Jacques Rogge and Seb Coe when they went to the Games... the only difference is our loved ones came home in coffins.

"But they were members of the same Olympic Family and that is why we want them remembered as such.

"Not here in this beautiful Guildhall, not in the Hilton Hotel in Beijing, not in the backyard of our ambassador in Athens, but within the Olympic framework."

Mrs Spitzer's impassioned speech was met with sustained applause, as was that of Israel's Sports and Culture Minister, Limor Livnat. Those who had called on the IOC for a minute's silence at the Opening Ceremony, she said, understood the intention of the Olympic spirit: "It comes through celebrating human life, terrorism celebrates death. Those who called on the IOC for a minute's silence understand this.

"President Obama, the United States Senate, the Prime Ministers of Australia, Canada, and members of Parliament of the United Kingdom all understand this. It is regrettable that their pleas were rejected."

Perhaps the most surprising attack on Jacques Rogge came from the normally circumspect leadership of the Anglo-Jewish community, whose feelings about the IOC were emotionally voiced by the chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, Mick Davis.

He said: "President Rogge, on behalf of the British Jewish community, we say to the IOC that to be silent is to be complicit..

"Your presence here is an important personal statement to your colleagues at the IOC, but it is not enough.

"Surely it is your obligation now to end the pain and injustice that the IOC official silence has meant for the victims' families.

"If the notion of the Olympic ideal is to retain its value the IOC as the custodian of that value must not remain silent... it is never too late to do the right thing, and that time is now."

Even Zvi Varshaviak, president of the Israeli Olympic Committee, who described Rogge as "our dear friend", and thanked him for his "personal support and friendship towards Israeli Olympic sport", pointedly told the president: "To you, and to the IOC, I say: It's time, after 40 years, that the International Olympic Committee acknowledge the 11 athletes, coaches and officials who were murdered during the Munich Olympic Games, as victims of the Olympic movement, and find an honourable way to commemorate their legacy."

In a night of high emotion Jacques Rogge himself was characteristically downbeat. "I competed in Munich," he told the audience, "and I will never forget why we are here.

"We are all here today because we should show... that the victims of 1972 are never forgotten.

"We are here to pay tribute to 11 great members of the Israeli Olympic delegation who showed courage throughout their ordeal.

"There is no justification for terrorism, ever. The Olympic Movement will continue more than ever to bring this message to future generations."

Last updated: 9:36am, August 7 2012