Memorializing the Munich 11.
Memorializing the Munich 11. Photo by AP
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What do the Olympics mean to you?

Is it about men and women who have trained and persevered for long years - indeed most of their lives - to reach the peak and a brief moment of glory? When an athlete achieves a superhuman result, do you wonder whether he or she took a shortcut, courtesy of the anabolic steroid industry, as Ben Johnson did in that infamous 100-meters final at the 1988 Seoul Games? Does your heart glory and spirits uplift watching the elaborate opening ceremonies in shining new mega-stadiums? Or do you see the billions wasted on monuments to politicians' megalomania that bankrupt cities for decades, and in the case of Athens 2004 push an entire nation to the brink of financial ruin? Is it about athletes coming together from all around the globe in a spirit of fair play and brotherhood (and sisterhood ) of (wo )man?

Do you buy the myth that the Paralympic Games, which begin the moment the "real" Olympics are over, are every bit as important? Do you believe in this make-believe Disneyworld of Olympic ideals or do you see the Games for what they really are: an orgiastic celebration of nationalist chauvinism orchestrated by a corrupt international oligarchy and fueled by the billions of corporate sponsorship and the millions of taxpayers who were never asked if they were prepared to trade financial stability for a few fleeting halcyon days?

The Olympics are a fascinating spectacle. All of life is in them: politics, diplomacy, corruption, public-relations and capitalism on a grand scale, and occasionally grand feats of athleticism and human endurance, all covered over with an artificial facade of that amorphous synthetic substance called "the Olympic spirit." But the truth is that corruption and bribery, cheating and naked avarice of every form have always been an integral part of the Games, not to mention how every few decades they are awarded to a dictatorship and used to glorify a despotic regime.

Not the real world

On Wednesday, I attended a press conference across from the Olympic stadium with Ilana Romano and Ankie Spitzer, two widows of the 11 Israeli sportsmen who were murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics by Palestinian terrorists. They were about to deliver to the president of the International Olympic Committee a petition signed by 105,000 people online, calling upon the IOC to hold a minute's silence at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre. Romano explained that her husband should be memorialized at the Games because "he was a member of the Olympic family and was murdered on Olympic soil."

And then it dawned on me that Ilana and Ankie, and perhaps all those other good people who signed the petition on the Internet, actually do believe in the Olympic spirit, which is a beautiful and exalted ideal but just as realistic as believing in Santa Claus.

Fencing coach Andre Spitzer, weightlifter Ilan Romano and their nine colleagues were just 11 more Jews to be murdered on Bavarian, not Olympic, soil. Their deaths were not part of the Olympic saga but yet another vicious chapter in the bloody history of the Israeli-Arab conflict - which heralded another round of bloodletting as Prime Minister Golda Meir sent the Mossad to wreak bloody vengeance throughout Europe and the Middle East on the perpetrators and planners.

Black September's cowardly massacre of Israel's athletes was immediately airbrushed out of the Olympic narrative by then-IOC President Avery Brundage, who announced 24 hours later that "The Games must go on," to wild applause from 80,000 German spectators in the Munich stadium.

Brundage saw the Munich Games as Germany's complete reacceptance back into the Olympic family, and nothing could be allowed to stain his perfect picture, not even the murder in the Olympic village of 11 athletes and coaches. The demand for a minute's silence at the Games is morally justified, but at the same time totally unrealistic. No official recognition of the Munich massacre has been allowed at any of the opening ceremonies, because reality must not be allowed to intrude upon the magic.

Reality is Olympic Games being awarded to cities that distributed millions in bribes to IOC members. Reality is a corrupt and nepotistic Olympic bureaucracy that was once ruled by venal racists such as Brundage and practicing fascists like Juan Antonio Samaranch, and today is dominated by the interests of television networks and mega-corporate sponsors that have been allowed to threaten shops in Britain with criminal prosecution if they dare use words connected to the Olympics in their window displays. Of course, this sort of advertising censorship is small beer when compared to what went on four years ago, when the Chinese authorities tried and often succeeded in censoring and restricting visiting Western journalists at the Beijing Games.

But Olympics are never about reality. Forty years ago, in the real world, 11 coffins returned home for burial in Israel. In the Olympic world, the Games went on. Belgian Olympian yachtsman Jacques Rogge carried on sailing. Today he is yet another IOC president who refuses to mention the Munich massacre at the opening ceremony, preferring instead to hold on Monday an "impromptu" and "spontaneous" moment of silence, unannounced and tucked away in a distant corner of the Olympic village.

Mark Spitz, the greatest Jewish Olympian of all times, also stayed in Munich, winning seven gold medals in the swimming pool. Thirteen years later, he lit a torch along with three daughters of the Munich martyrs - but that was at the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games in Israel, a poor parallel world to the golden Olympic one. Today in east London the magical Olympic kingdom will open for 17 days. The Munich 11 will not be mentioned there - they belong to the real world.