Monday’s event at the Guildhall, to be attended by the IOC chief Jacques Rogge and the leaders of Britain’s three major political parties, will feature the lighting of candles in memory of the 11 Israeli coaches and athletes murdered at the Games in Germany 40 years ago. A guestlist that also includes London 2012 Chairman Lord Coe, Mayor Boris Johnson and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bernard Hogan-Howe will also help to ensure this is the most high-profile of the commemorations that have been held to mark the anniversary.
However, for many in attendance, including two of the widows of Munich victims, the failure of the IOC to include a minute’s silence for their husbands at last week’s Olympics opening ceremony – as they and tens of thousands of supporters around the globe demanded – will be at the forefront of their minds when Rogge gets up to speak at the Guildhall ceremony, which has been organised by National Olympic Committee of Israel, the Jewish Committee for the London Games and the Israeli Embassy.
Peter Mason, Director of the London Jewish Forum, said: “Without a doubt, many of those who will speak, including those who will represent the Jewish community will make clear the absolute need for the IOC to take it upon themselves in recognising and commemorating the events of 1972, at the same time expressing disappointment in the failure of the IOC to do so 40 years on.”
The inclusion of a section in Friday’s curtain-raiser that included images of loved ones lost by those in the stadium, but was also widely interpreted as a tribute to the victims of the 7/7 attacks, brought further questions about the IOC’s motives for dismissing calls for a Munich tribute, particularly as Rogge had earlier claimed it was not the right atmosphere “to remember such a tragic incident”.
Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said: “The ceremony did include moments of silence and respect for those British citizens who died during terror attacks. We can only conclude that Rogge meant that the opening ceremony was not fit to remember a tragic incident involving Israelis.”
He added: “On Friday night, Rogge finally ran out of excuses. He said a minute silence was not part of the protocol, yet many previous Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies held a minute silence.
“It was claimed that it was too political, yet many political causes have been remembered during opening ceremonies. Finally, he said it was not an atmosphere fit to remember such a tragic incident, yet other tragic incidents were remembered. Rogge lost our respect and his ability to legitimately represent the Olympic ideal that all are equal in the family of nations. He was exposed as a hypocrite and someone led by political interests.”
The opening ceremony saw eight inspiring individuals carry the Olympic flag into the stadium in Stratford, prompting observers to suggest an alternative route for the IOC to honour the victims of Munich would have been to at least offer a spot to one of the widows. One of two Jews who were given that honour alongside UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Doreen Lawrence was Sally Becker, a goodwill ambassador for Children of Peace who rescued some 170 children and their families during the Bosnian conflict and in 2006 distributed supplies to inhabitants of northern Israel afflicting by rocket attacks.
She told the Jewish News this week of how she said a silent prayer for the victims of Munich as she carried out her duties in front of an estimated television audience of one billion.
And the aid worker, dubbed the Angel of Mostar, added: “I felt very honoured to be chosen to carry the Olympic flag, the International symbol of a peaceful and better world. After years of battling with the UN and other agencies and having to justify my actions to the press, this was a great endorsement of my work. Nevertheless, had it been possible to give up my place to one of the widows of the athletes who died at Munich I would have.”
Last Friday, ahead of the opening ceremony, hundreds participated in commemorations in Trafalgar Square and at the Israeli Embassy. During the latter, that was broadcast online across the world, Ambassador Daniel Taub stated: “We are gathering here, together with thousands of people joining us through the internet, to remember the Olympics’ darkest moment. It was a direct assault on the Olympic ideal of peace and understanding through friendship, solidarity and fair play. And that is why this needs to be remembered publically, as a message that those ideals have not been forgotten.”
At the same time, crowds gathered at the famous square where thousands celebrated London being awarded the Games seven years ago and recited kaddish ahead of the minute’s silence. Ari Soffer, director of the British Israel Coalition, which organised the vigil, said: “It is shameful that the IOC has refused to hold just one minute of silence at any official Olympic event here in London.
“We are here today to remember the Israeli victims of this brutal attack, and to show that the Olympics must never again be allowed to be highjacked by violent murderers.”
In a sign of how far the campaign for a silence has spread, members of the Italian Olympic team observed a silence in the Olympic Village this week while the pilot on an Easyjet flight to Tel Aviv urged passengers to join the crew in a silent tribute at they passed over Munich.
Speaking ahead of the Guildhall event, which will be presented by actor Chaim Topol, David Cameron said: “This year’s London Olympics mark 40 years since one of the darkest days in the history of the Games. The murder in 1972 of 11 Israeli athletes was an appalling act of terrorism.
“It’s vital that this tragedy is properly commemorated, which is why a minute’s silence was observed at the athletes’ village on the Olympic Park. And that’s also why I want to pay my respects on behalf of the British people at the commemorative event at the Guildhall.”Learn more »