Friday, July 27, 2012

Commemoration in the Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremony is tonight. For those looking for live coverage of the Opening Ceremony, as NBC will not carry it live, my best guess is to try this feed of Telesur, covering it in Venezuela. (The NBC delay is one of about four hours.)

During NBC's coverage, Bob Costas has announced that he intends to hold a minute's silence when Israel marches in the Parade of Nations. Israel asked for- well, demanded is probably the right word, actually- a minute's silence in remembrance of the 40th anniversary of the Munich shootings. The IOC opted not to do so; instead, a separate memorial was held on Monday. Another was held yesterday at Trafalgar Square. The Israelis do not consider this to be good enough. Obviously, neither does Costas.

With a shiny new #nbcfail hashtag, the question now becomes, does this qualify. Is there some sort of inherent wrong here, or is this simply a bit of controversy you can come down on either side of? I come down on the side of the former. It would appear at first glance to be the latter. After all, the 1972 massacre of the Israeli Olympic team is quite arguably the single worst tragedy in the history of the Games. The 40th anniversary would seem, at first glance, to be a good time to single it out.

But on the other hand, remember: Olympics happen on a quadrennial basis. It only takes five Games to reach a 20-year anniversary. Commemmorating things that happened at 20-year intervals would pretty quickly swamp a ceremony. This is the 40th anniversary of Munich, but it is also the 20th anniversary of Barcelona, the 60th anniversary of Helsinki, the 80th anniversary of Los Angeles, and the 100th anniversary of Stockholm.

Which doesn't seem to be all that great an argument; those Games weren't particularly commemoratible. But shift it four years down the road to 2016 in Rio and present the same scenario. That's the 20th anniversary of the Atlanta bombings. It's also the 40th anniversary of Nadia Comenici's perfect 10 in Montreal, the 60th anniversary of the only split-hosted Olympics in Melbourne and Stockholm, the 80th anniversary of Berlin and Hitler and Jesse Owens, and the 100th anniversary of the Olympics that never were; the 1916 edition was cancelled due to World War 1. And, lest we forget, the 120th anniversary of the first modern Games in Athens.

Do we ask Rio to commemorate all that? Of course not. There wouldn't be any time left over to run their own ceremony. And that's the thing: it's not Israel's program to put together. It's Great Britain's ceremony. It's London's ceremony. It's the IOC's ceremony. And it's definitely not Bob Costas' ceremony, as much as he would frequently like to think it is. That is what makes this an inherent wrong instead of a mere debate. You're not merely dictating to the host nation how to run their own Olympics, which is bad enough in its own right. You are actively hijacking it and inserting your own agenda.

This is not to say Munich is not worthy of being remembered. It is. It has been, in fact. Twice. And we're talking about it now to boot. But you need bigger anniversaries, bigger occasions than just 'it's a nice round number year again', to commemorate it in the Ceremony itself. Namely, you need the 100th anniversary, or, failing that, you need to wait until Germany is once again called upon to host the Olympics. Then it becomes their ceremony, and they will be much more inclined to commemorate Munich regardless of how many years it's been. And of course, should Israel ever get to host, then they can do whatever they want at their pleasure.

But in London, a city and country that had nothing to do with it, there's a whole other set of Olympic history to commemorate. There have been two other Games in that very city. If anything from Olympic history is to be remembered during the Opening Ceremony, it will be the Games of 1908, 1948, and another pair of Games that never were, the Games of 1940 and 1944, cancelled due to World War 2.

A pair of Games cancelled, it should be noted, due to other very bad things that were happening to what would later become Israelis. Unless they've forgotten.

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