Olympic president Jacques Rogge arrives for a press conference at the Olympic Park, east of London on July 21
Olympic president Jacques Rogge arrives for a press conference at the Olympic Park, east of London on July 21. The massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Olympics had Rogge the athlete fighting with his conscience over whether to carry on competing or not. © Carl de Souza - AFP/File
Olympic president Jacques Rogge arrives for a press conference at the Olympic Park, east of London on July 21
Pirate Irwin, AFP
Last updated: July 23, 2012

Forty years on, ghosts of Munich hang over Rogge

The massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Olympics had Jacques Rogge the athlete fighting with his conscience over whether to carry on competing or not.

Now, 40 years later, the 70-year-old International Olympic Committee president has endured similar soul-searching.

This time it was over whether or not to agree to a minute's silence at the opening ceremony of the London Games on Friday, to commemorate the day Black September Palestinian militants shattered the 'Olympic Truce' forever.

Some were killed in their rooms in the Athletes Village while five of the extremists, and one German policeman, were killed in a chaotic shootout at a nearby airfield.

Rogge, who steps down in September next year after a relatively trouble-free 12 years in charge, was actually competing against an Israeli yachtsman on the day of the tragedy.

"I was competing that day and I wondered why the coastguard was escorting my Israeli rival back to the shore," said Rogge.

"There was an agonising choice to be made by me after the Games resumed following a two day halt to competition.

"Some athletes decided to go home and not compete and I wondered whether I should do the same.

"However I was a young ambitious guy who had been supported by his family so I decided to continue."

Rogge's decision then was an individual one.

But his and the IOC's refusal to cede ground over a minute's silence, despite appeals from the Israeli government and US President Barack Obama, has placed him and world sport's governing body in an uncomfortable position.

Rogge insists that while the appeals were taken into account, there was no place for such a commemoration at the Games.

Instead he and other IOC members will honour the 40th anniversary on September 5 in an historic visit to the airfield.

"We feel that the Opening Ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident," he said when pressed on the issue on Saturday.

"We plan to assist the meeting organised by the National Olympic Committee of Israel and there will be various IOC delegates there and we will also be present on the exact day of the killings, on 5 September, at the military airport of Furstenfeldbruck and that is what we are going to do."

To many it will not come as a huge surprise the IOC have stood firm given Rogge's reply in the same AFP interview in 2009 over whether the then IOC president Avery Brundage was right to declare the 1972 Games should go on.

"In hindsight I think the decision taken by Avery Brundage was the right one," said Rogge.

"Had the IOC given in to terrorists I firmly believe that would have been the end of the Olympics. No one would have wanted to organise them again."

Meanwhile, Israel on Sunday said it was vigilant ahead of the Olympics in the wake of Wednesday's deadly suicide attack at Bulgarian resort on the Black Sea which killed five Israeli tourists and their local driver.

"There is definitely vigilance in terms of intelligence and operationally ahead of the Olympic Games," Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters.

"Naturally it is an attractive event, and even without concrete warnings, we must be ready and alert, first and foremost because such things have already happened," he said, referring to the deadly 1972 attack.

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