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The International Olympic Committee needs to lift its Game

May 2, 2012 – 7:37 pm3 Comments

Sam Stoller (2nd from left) & Marty Glickman (3rd from left), removed from the US 1936 relay team by Avery Brundage, in order to not offend Hitler any further following victories by African American athletes such as Jesse Owens

By Ashley Browne
So how many women will be competing for Saudi Arabia at this year’s summer Olympic Games?

The answer is zero, just as it has been at all eight Olympics to which the Saudis have sent a team since first competing in Munich in 1972.

Once again, the Saudis have resisted all calls to emerge from the Stone Age and to allow women to represent their country at the Olympics. This time around will be the only nation to do so.

Brunei and Qatar have opened their selection to women in 2012 and certainly in the case of Qatar, it had little choice but to do so given the aspirations it has to host the 2020 Summer Games.

The Saudis played it beautifully, telling the world it was considering a change in selection policy. Once the utterly predictable decision to stick with the status quo was made, it was too late for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to do anything about it.

Human rights activists have started a campaign to ban Saudi Arabia from the Olympics, but not much will come of it. After all, if women don’t even have the right to drive a car in the kingdom, what chance would they have of swimming, running and jumping for their country.

If the IOC had any smarts, it would put the Saudis on notice now that the situation for Rio de Janeiro in 2016 must change, but we’re not holding our breath about that one.

Nor are we holding out much hope of the IOC yielding to another request, one that we think is equally reasonable.

The London Olympics will mark the 40th anniversary of the darkest episode in Olympic history – the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Games in Munich.

The efforts by the IOC to commemorate the lives of the murdered athletes since then have been lukewarm at best. There was a memorial service in the days afterwards, but even then IOC chairman Avery Brundage barely mentioned the victims and used the occasion for a ‘state of the Olympics’ speech and to rail against the encroaching professionalism and to shout down those arguing for Rhodesia, as it was known at the time, to be booted out of the Games.

Brundage’s lack of empathy wasn’t a surprise to many observers. He was the same guy, who when in charge of the US team in 1936 agreed to the removal of sprinters Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller from the team in order to appease the Nazi organisers of the Berlin Olympics.

Google “Avery Brundage and anti-semitic” and you will be left in little doubt of what people thought of Brundage then and now.

There are memorials to the slain Israelis at the Olympic village in Munich and of course, in Israel. The only other Olympic host nation to have erected any sort of monument is Australia, where a plaque sits at the base of one of the light towers at what is now known as ANZ Stadium at Homebush.

This year, change.org has taken up the cudgels, launching an online petition calling for a minute’s silence in memory of murdered athletes during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. There have been such calls before, but this time the campaign has gone viral.

Writes Ankie Spitzer, the wife of Andrei Spitzer, one of the murdered Israelis: “Silence is a fitting tribute for athletes who lost their lives on the Olympic stage. Silence contains no statements, assumptions or beliefs and requires no understanding of language to interpret.

“I have no political or religious agenda. Just the hope that my husband and the other men who went to the Olympics in peace, friendship and sportsmanship are given what they deserve. One minute of silence will clearly say to the world that what happened in 1972 can never happen again. Please do not let history repeat itself.”

Chances are strong that this plea, like all those before them, will fall upon deaf ears. The Australian Olympic Committee could make a representation on this behalf, such is the strong standing our country has in the Olympic movement. But AOC chairman John Coates has bigger fish to fry such as the seating arrangements at the forthcoming fundraiser that the Prime Minister has chosen not to attend.

Having chosen not to stand up to the Saudi Arabia, winner of one silver and one bronze medal it its Olympic history, the IOC has shown itself to be a bit soft when it comes to the issue of human rights. But a minute’s silence at the London Olympics, for all victims of terror, not just the murdered Israelis, would send a powerful message.

Is the IOC up to it?

Ashley Browne is a senior writer for AFL Media and the co-founder and consulting editor of leading Australian sports blog, BackPageLead. He is a former national editor of the Australian Jewish News. You can follow him on Twitter @afl_hashbrowne

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  • TheSadducee says:

    If the IOC applied a human rights judgement criteria on participating nations, the Games would be pretty thinly populated to be honest.

    Nice idea about the silence though, but I’m incredibly sceptical that the IOC would touch such a politically toxic subject. I mean the UN cannot even define terrorism for the world community, let alone the IOC attempting to do so.

    They certainly wouldn’t make any overt reference to the 1972 Israelis as they’d probably have a minor boycott by many of the nations which would be incredibly embarrassing and damaging politically. And if they didn’t, then they’d probably have some extremists use the opportunity to complain about whatever grievance they wanted a world audience for – all round a lose-lose situation.

  • Reality Check says:

    I, for one, would love to see the Saudis compete in synchronized swimming.

  • frosh says:

    On the issue of women’s participation in sport, there’s two issues.

    There’s the issue that Ashley has discussed where certain countries prohibit their women from participating, and that is appalling.

    However, there’s the other issue where international sporting bodies also prohibit women from participating by not allowing them to compete wearing modest clothing.

    If the clothing does not actually provide an unfair advantage (and I am yet to hear of a case where it does) and does not hide identity (e.g. face veil), then women ought be able to cover-up whatever parts of their body they wish to and still participate in their chosen sport.

    Not only is that fairer, but it also takes away any excuses from countries like Saudi Arabia who might use the modesty argument to deny their women the chance to participate.

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