CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 25, 2012 — Just before the curtain goes up on the London Olympics, a debate has arisen that will quickly fade and be forgotten once the competitions begin. The controversy is largely an interesting academic exercise, but it is one that draws a fine line between political correctness and sensitivity.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the worst tragedy in Olympics history, when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed eleven Israeli athletes in Munich, Germany in 1972.
As the gala celebration of the opening ceremonies prepare to unfold, the conflict arises whether to observe a moment of silence commemorating the historical significance of that day of horror witnessed by the entire world.
On the one hand, there are those who believe it is best not to distract from the joyous festivities of the current Olympics to remind the world of a hideous event that took place four decades ago.
One theory is that such a pause, no matter how brief, would incite the potential for new acts of terrorism during the games. With more security forces than athletes in London and environs, plus the fact that an attempt at an attack of any kind has already been coordinated, the odds of a moment of silence causing a problem is not likely.
Walking on egg shells to avoid arousing increased hatred in the Middle East is a hollow argument. Those in the Islamic world who loathe unbelievers as part of their belief system cannot hate any more than they do already.
Cultures that thrive on a world at war could care less about a world at play, unless they can leave a lasting symbolic trail of destruction to highlight their purpose. A moment of silence would hardly be further incentive.
It appears that the prevailing attitude is to ignore the historical record of Munich and pretend it never happened.
The opposing view says that not having a brief moment to honor the Israeli athletes who lost their lives in Germany is a sign of disrespect.
Unfortunately, the Olympics have a long history of outside political influence because they are an international gathering where the entire world concentrates on a single location for two weeks.
The fact that the Olympics is a global gathering has a valid argument for avoiding a few seconds of solemn recognition. It is not the same as the Colorado Rockies observing silence for the people of Aurora who lost their lives last week. While the Rockies were demonstrating solidarity and sympathy for the families whose lives were forever changed by a mass murderer, that was a national tragedy, not international.
As an international event, the Olympics is a complex mixture of diverse perspective. Though our American mores seem logical to us, the rest of the world does not necessarily share our philosophy.
When Baron Pierre de Coubertin revitalized the Olympic movement in 1896, his vision was idealistic, if not naïve. Coubertin believed that the honor of participating in the games outweighed the joy of victory. His dream was the mantra of competitive spirit itself, matching the best against the best in contests where, to quote a familiar phrase, “It matters not who won or lost but how you played the game.”
For Coubertin, the goal was for the games to be devoid of politics; to focus upon the sheer exhilaration of sport.
Tell that to an athlete who has trained all of his life only to lose by a fraction of a second. For that competitor, at that moment, there is little consolation in “how he played the game.”
What Coubertin failed to understand is that, in general, athletes don’t really care about the politics of nations. They concentrate on the task at hand which is their individual dedication to the sport in which they compete. In general, an Olympian has little concern over the nationalities of his competitors so long as he challenges the best in his field and wins. Sports, in and of itself, has no borders.
To observe a few moments of silence for athletes from different countries of conflicting political ideals only serves to awaken wounds created long before today’s group of competitors was born. Is it really necessary to do that at a time when the world should be celebrating?
Perhaps the best solution is the one where NBC will reflect upon the Munich Olympics during its telecasts. They will tell the story with empathy and compassion. Let them remind us to honor those who were killed in those antagonizing hours of horror.
As for the athletes, let them embrace Coubertin’s ideal and savor the moments of cultural sharing that comes from two weeks of competition.
Let the flags of the world wave majestically and let the games begin.
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. He played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club , which creates, and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.
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