Widows of Israeli athletes murdered during 1972 Munich Olympics attack International Olympic Committee

Criticism comes after the IOC refused to officially mark the 40th anniversary of the massacre
  • @jerometaylor

The widows of two Israeli athletes who were murdered during the 1972 Munich Olympics have launched a devastating attack on the International Olympic Committee for its refusal to officially mark the 40th anniversary of the massacre during this summer’s Games.

Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, whose husbands Andre and Youseff were both gunned down by Palestinian terrorists, flew into London this afternoon to accuse the IOC of being deliberately discriminatory and bowing to pressure from Arab nations who oppose any commemoration of Munich.

“The families of the Munich 11 have been asking the IOC to commemorate the deaths of their loved ones almost since the horrific event took place nearly 40 years ago,” they said in a statement issued to publicise the visit. “They have been rejected every time.”

Eleven Israeli competitors were killed by Palestinian gunmen who stormed into the athletes’ apartment and took them hostage. Moshe Weinberg and Youssef Romano were murdered in the initial attack as they tried to repel the gunmen. Their teammates, including Andre Spitzer, were gunned down by their captors during a bundled hostage rescue.

Their relatives have long campaigned for the IOC to make some sort of official commemoration but the movement has gained added impetus given that London 2012 coincides with the 40th anniversary of the tragedy.

In recent weeks high profile world leaders such as Barack Obama and Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard have publicly called for the massacre to be marked, piling pressure on the Olympic Games’ overseeing body. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who arrives in Britain tomorrow [WEDS] for the Olympic Games before travelling on to Israel, has also come out in support of the widows’ demands – a position he refused to take in 2002 when he was an organiser of the winter games in Salt Lake City.

When The Independent asked Downing Street for comment a spokeswoman said the Prime Minister supported any attempt to mark the Munich massacre but stopped short of saying it should be officially commemorated in the Games itself. “The Prime Minister clearly thinks that it is important that the significance of the events in Munich 40 years ago are marked during the Olympic games,” she said.

The IOC has fiercely resisted any attempt to officially commemorate the Munich massacre during the Games itself, arguing that doing so would politicise what is meant to be an apolitical competition. Instead IOC chief Jacques Rogge tried to head of criticism by holding a surprise silence during a visit to the Olympic village on Monday.

"I would like to start today's ceremony by honoring the memory of the 11 Israeli Olympians who shared the ideals that have brought us together in this beautiful Olympic Village," Rogge told a small group of gathered reporters. "The 11 victims of the Munich tragedy believed in that vision. They came to Munich in the spirit of peace and solidarity. We owe it to them to keep the spirit alive and to remember them."

But he has refused to allow any commemoration during the Games themselves or the opening ceremony.

Campaigners say there is a significant difference between holding a surprise silence in front of a handful of TV cameras and supporting an official commemoration during the opening ceremony which would be viewed by billions around the world.

"He is trying to do the bare minimum," Miss Romano told The Jerusalem Post. "This is shameful."

Critics have accused the IOC of bowing to pressure from Arab nations who have previously threatened to boycott the games if any commemoration was made for the slain Israeli athletes. ESPN.com reported that confidential IOC minutes from a meeting before the 2000 Sydney Olympics suggested that the organization had received "threatening letters on the issue from several different Arab Olympic committees."

Commentators have pointed out that the IOC previously allowed a commemoration to go ahead during the Salt Lake City games to mark the September 11 attacks. Jewish Chronicle columnist Jennifer Lipman criticised the IOC for bowing to pressure from Arab nations. “If the I.O.C. can close half the roads in London, force Saudi Arabia to field female athletes, or threaten greasy spoons for daring to use the Olympic logo, then they can withstand complaints from nations – Arab or otherwise – that would rather the Munich massacre be overlooked this summer,” she wrote.

Daniel Taub, Israel’s ambassador to Britain, has instead called on Jewish groups and supporters to hold their own one minute silence at 11am on Friday, the day the Games begin. A Facebook group set up by the Zionist Federation has received support from more than 13,000 people.