What the IOC missed

Campaign for a Minutes Silence at the OlympicsCampaign for a Minutes Silence at the Olympics
The campaign for a minute of silence to remember the Israeli athletes killed by terrorists at the 1972 Olympics may have begun life as an online petition, but at some point it made the leap off the internet and into the real world.


It is the failure of the International Olympic Committee to recognise and respond to this leap that will no doubt be the subject of future analysis by experts. We can debate whether there has been a moral failing at the top of the IOC, but what is beyond debate is that the IOC and the London Games have blundered into disaster; this disaster is a direct result of a failure to understand both the modern world and the place of social media in today’s society. Many social media campaigns can be ignored, but some are an early warning symbol of rising public concern that refuses to be contained online. 

Had the call for a minutes silence remained an online issue, and had it remained an issue about Israelis, the IOC could have continued to ignore it. They have done so in the past without much difficulty. This, however, is 2012. The threat of terrorism, and efforts to mitigate that threat, permeate the games. The threat of terrorism, and the erosion of fundamental rights through anti-terror measures around the world, is a topic of public interest and conversation. Enough time has passed since September 11 for the world to again begin thinking about the balance between security and the cost it imposes on our daily lives.

The response to terrorism is something Israel began dealing with a long time ago. The world has changed and today more than ever people around the globe acknowledge the loss of terror victims and the suffering of their families. This is increasingly done without regard for nationality. The IOC’s mistake was thinking the minutes silence was about placating Israelis and the families of the victims. Whatever the wishes of the victims’ families, the campaign gained worldwide support for its own reasons and on its own merits. It spoke to people, and they connected with it and shared it.


The 1972 terrorist attack was not an attack on Israelis as much as it was an attack on the Olympics itself. The decision to ban Apartheid South Africa from the games all those decades ago shows that the Olympics is not entirely free of world politics, it is just very cautious and only acts in line with world consensus. That’s where the IOC went wrong; in this matter there is a concensus and the IOC is trying to ignore it.

Today’s global consensus is actively against terror. In the face of terror, be it a natural disaster or the politically motivated terror human kind invents for itself, people around the world stand together as one. Social media plays a role as the world becomes ever more connnected. The IOC’s failure to incorporate a minutes silence into the opening of the games appears as a failure of leadership; a failure to stand with the people of the world and speak out against our greatest fear.

The timing too is significant. Let us for a moment recall that the Olympics only occur every four years. This is therefore the tenth games since the terrorists attacked. There will be no fiftieth anniversary at the2022 Olympic Games. Indeed, due to the Olympic schedule there will be no 2022 Games. In this context, the failure by the International Olympic Committee to very publically acknowledge that the games too have been a victim of terror, is akin to an American President refusing to commemorate September 11 on a major anniversary of that tragic event. It is indeed incomprehensible.

The IOC may have missed it, but politicians, ever attune to public sentiment, have passed resolutions in Parliaments around the world and written to the IOC calling for a minutes silence.  The resolution of the US Congress noted how the “core spirit of the Olympics was violated” by the 1972 terrorist attack. President Obama too has backed the campaign. From Australia to Italy, Germany, to Canada, our elected leaders have seen what the IOC has not. They have seen the attack on the games in the wider context of our modern life. They see the public’s need to confront and condemn terrorism in all its forms. The inevitable call to institute a minutes silence around the world, regardless of the IOCs decision, is spreading via social media and indeed through the main stream media. The potential for an imposed minute of silence or other commemoration by broadcasters is starting to look real. Fans around the world have hit the point where they are willing to turn their TVs off as the games begin in their own silent protest.

The protests, in the real world, and in defiance of the IOC, are a symbol of our shared values and our international camaraderie. They are a symbol of our shared fear and our mutual pledge of support in times of terror. The IOC missed the moment when this went from an online petition to an international campaign with support as wide and deep as that of the Olympics itself. The IOC missed the point when this campaign began to embody the Olympic Spirit more surely than the games which are suffering from over commercialisation and security paranoia. The IOC’s mistake is going to overshadow these games for millions of people.