LONDON (Reuters) - Olympic organisers hit back on Tuesday at criticism of the way they had honoured 11 Israeli team members killed at the 1972 Munich Games and rejected calls to hold a minute’s silence for them during the opening ceremony.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge led a surprise tribute in the athletes village in London on Monday but that low-key event failed to satisfy relatives of the victims or Israeli officials.
London organising committee chairman Seb Coe told Reuters he felt the tribute had been appropriate and played down calls for the 40th anniversary of the massacre to be marked with a higher profile commemoration.
“We marked it yesterday in the Olympic Park, in the village with the signing of the truce wall and the president’s very poignant words about those Israeli athletes who lost their lives in 1972,” London Organising Committee chairman Coe told Reuters in a television interview.
U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he backs an official minute of silence at the opening ceremony on Friday which will be held in front of a crowd of 60,000 in the Olympic stadium and is expected to be watched by more than a billion people on television.
Coe was present at the tribute on Monday, which included a minute’s silence, and said it had been fitting.
“That was absolutely appropriate,” said Coe, a double Olympic gold medallist who is the public face of the Games in Britain.
“It was in the athletes’ village which is exactly where that act of barbarity took place. I think that balance yesterday was struck perfectly.”
Ankie Spitzer, wife of murdered Olympic fencing coach Andrei Spitzer, will be in London this week to press her campaign for a moment of silence after gathering more than 100,000 signatures in a petition.
“We, the families of the 11 murdered Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972, consider the ‘private’ moment President Rogge had yesterday in the Olympic Village, only as a general rehearsal for what we expect him to do during opening ceremonies in London,” Spitzer said in a statement on behalf of the victims’ families.
“We will continue our efforts to have the memory of our loved ones honoured at the opening ceremony on Friday.”
The Jerusalem Post newspaper said Israeli officials were “underwhelmed” by Rogge’s response. It quoted a diplomatic official who called it a ceremony that nobody knew about or paid attention to.
Palestinian guerrillas from the Black September group attacked the Israeli team and took hostages in Munich after scaling a perimeter fence with their weapons concealed in sports bags.
Within 24 hours, 11 Israelis, five Palestinians and a German policeman were dead after a standoff and subsequent botched rescue effort.
Reporting by Keith Weir; Editing by John Mehaffey