Munich widows call for Olympic ceremony protest

Updated: July 25, 2012, 6:08 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- The widows of two Israeli Olympians killed by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Olympics are urging spectators to stage a silent protest during Friday's opening ceremony for the London Games.

Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano are demanding that London organizers recognize their husbands' deaths and honor them at Olympic Stadium 40 years after the slayings.

The two women have asked audience members to stand in silence when International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge rises to speak at Friday's ceremony. Since Olympic organizers have rejected a moment of silence for the 11 slain Israeli athletes and coaches, the widows say the silent protest will be a victory in their fight to have the men remembered at the proper place and time.

"They were not accidental tourists," Spitzer told reporters Wednesday, her hoarse voice rising with indignation. "They came with dreams and came home in coffins."

The 1972 Munich Olympics were the first held in Germany since the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and was designed to blot out the tainted images of competition in Nazi Germany. But in the second week, the Black September militant group penetrated the laxly secured village and took Israeli team members hostage. Within a day of Sept. 5, 11 died.

The games were briefly suspended, but the Olympics were forever changed. Security costs soared and just kept rising with every games.

For Spitzer and Romano, it was a simpler time. Ankie Spitzer and her fencing coach husband, Andrei, had just had a daughter, Anouk, who is also pressing the fight for the silent protest. They say Andrei was thrilled to be an Olympian and firmly believed in the higher goals of the games.

Ilana Romano, meanwhile, had had a bad feeling about her husband Yossef's trip to the games. Romano, Israel's middleweight weightlifting champion, had injured his knee and dropped out after the clean-and-jerk event. He was set to return to Israel on Sept. 6 for an operation.

Romano tried to escape during the siege. Although injured and using crutches, Romano lunged at one of his captors, slashing him with a paring knife and grabbing his gun. Another militant shot him, and he was left to bleed to death in front of his bound teammates.

The widows took their message to the public in a news conference Wednesday, saying they were tired of hearing about how the hands of the IOC are tied by protocol. They hope that the IOC notices -- and decides to act.

Nor were they moved by a tribute Monday at the athletes' village, when Rogge in a surprise move led a solemn minute of silence. They are also not satisfied by the plan to honor the slain at a private reception in London on Aug. 6.

The IOC says the opening ceremony is not an appropriate arena to remember the dead, despite pressure from politicians in the United States, Israel and Germany. A committee started by a Jewish organization in Rockland, New York, has gathered more than 100,000 signatures for the moment of silence and count President Barack Obama among their supporters.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams defended the organization and Rogge, saying that it recognizes the deaths as a dark time for the Olympics.

"We are marking the moment in a number of ways that we think are the most appropriate," Adams told The Associated Press. "The President made a moving speech in the village, there will be a ceremony next week in cooperation with the Israeli NOC where the president will speak and we will mark the exact anniversary in Munich ....The IOC will mark and will continue to mark the darkest moment in its history."

The families flatly reject the official reasons they've been given over the years for why this cannot happen. At Montreal, they said they were told the reason was that the Arabs would leave. At Barcelona, it was about an unwillingness to bring politics to the games. At Atlanta, the reason was protocol. At Athens, organizers said it was not the appropriate time.

The widows ask: Would they face the same problem if the athletes were the U.S. Dream Team? Or any other country?

"They came from the wrong country and the wrong religion," Spitzer said at the news conference.

Now is the time, they say. And they promise that if the IOC keeps saying no, they will keep fighting, to the next generation if necessary. They met with Rogge later Wednesday to present the petition.

"We are outraged, we are angry, we are sad," Spitzer said of Rogge's refusal of their request.

Romano and Spritzer say the years have only strengthened their resolve. They note that organizers in Vancouver held a moment of silence at the opening ceremony for Nodar Kumaritashvili, a Georgian luger killed during a high-speed training run in Whistler just hours before the opening of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The families say the circumstances may be different but the principle is the same. The Olympics should honor their own, the members of the so-called "Olympic Family." They say the Olympics are just not like anything else -- they are about sportsmanship, peace, goodwill. And when the Israeli athletes were attacked, the entire Olympic movement was too.

"It is not just a competition," Spitzer said. "It is an idea."

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Associated Press Writer Stephen Wilson contributed to this story. He can be reached at http://twitter.com/stevewilsonap.

Danica Kirka can be reached at http://twitter.com/DanicaKirka


Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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