The torch, the flags, the anthems, the drama of competition among the world's finest athletes, all set against a backdrop of international pomp and circumstance—surely the Olympic Games represent the pinnacle of human prowess.
But I wish they came closer to the Olympic ideal, and also represented the summit of the human spirit. At this point, sadly, they do not.
Yes, there are things to fix in the Olympics, what with recurring scandals and whatever "crises du jour" inevitably plague each season of the Games. But here I'm thinking of a stain more sinister, and oddly, more easily remedied. For unless and until the International Olympic Committee finds an appropriate, official way to memorialize the 11 Israeli athletes and one German police officer slain by Palestinian terrorists in Munich in 1972, the Games will continue to be held hostage by the legacy of terror, and continue to fall short of the Olympic ideal.
A feeble, surprise attempt this week by IOC President Jacques Rogge to "honor" the Munich victims during a stop at London's Olympic Village was nothing more than a sham, an effort to divert attention from the growing calls for a moment of silence at Friday's opening ceremonies. And perhaps, too, from speculation that the IOC fears that recognition at the opening ceremonies would not be well received by some participating countries.
As I get ready to sit glued to my television this year, watching another crop of great athletes perform in London, another video scene—a dark and grainy nightmare version of the broadcast from 40 years ago—will play over and over in my mind. I will hear yet again the voice of Jim McKay, speaking not as a sportscaster but as an ordinary person of feeling, saying those dreadful words: "They're all gone."
He was referring to the terrible fate of the Israeli hostages, held in the Olympic village after two of their colleagues already had been shot dead, who were discovered murdered following a botched rescue attempt by German police. (Germany had refused Israel's offer to mount a rescue, for which Israeli forces were better prepared to succeed.)
"That day was the end of innocence in sports. … It was also the end of innocence for all of us," McKay wrote 10 years ago.
While the International Olympic Committee can do nothing to restore innocence, for me and so many others in my community and beyond, it can help restore the Olympic spirit by officially honoring the dead. For isn't remembrance, an essential act in itself, also one of the cornerstones of healing?
Perhaps I am off the mark in suspecting, as I do, that had those particular Olympic athletes not been Israeli and Jewish, they wouldn't have been denied the remembrance many are calling for today. But as I write this just days after five Israelis and their bus driver were murdered in a terrorist bombing targeting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria—an attack that occurred on the 18th anniversary of the bombing of the headquarters of Argentina's Jewish community that killed 85—it is hard for me to avoid drawing that conclusion.
Too many people, it seems, have been willing or even eager to forget the 1972 attack. But like Jim McKay, you don't have to be Jewish to understand the significance of Munich. You don't have to be Jewish to feel that something remains broken.
"The Games must go on!" said International Olympic Committee chairman Avery Brundage following the massacre. Gone on they have. And as far as I'm concerned, they've gone on perennially hijacked and held hostage. Save for one day of mourning at Munich 40 years ago, they have gone on with no official memorial—something that today is being called for far and wide, by President Obama and Mitt Romney, by the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament, by the Australian Prime Minister, the German Foreign Minister, the widows of those slain Olympians, and so many more.
Among the aims of terrorism is to drive a wedge between peoples, to sow fear and discord, to destroy not just individuals but ideals. While the Olympics continue to focus the aspirations of young athletes and to capture the imagination of audiences worldwide, the spirit of the Games has never recovered from Munich.
In properly acknowledging the massacre of athletes who were doing no more than representing their country in the 1972 Games, the Olympics can at last regain its position as a worthy representative of the best qualities of humanity, and as a force for fellowship in a fragmented world.