Terrorism and Security in the Olympics
Security is a fundamental notion in sports. Nowadays athletes are viewed often through the media, therefore they are recognizable. In the Olympics security measures must be taken to protect the athletes. There are many different nationalities involved therefore security has to be taken in order to ensure that there aren’t conflicting views that could possibly be damaging towards another team. But quite often it cannot be prevented.
On the morning of September 5, 1972, the members of the Israeli delegation awoke in their quarters in the Olympic village to the desperate cries of wrestling referee Joseph Gottfreund.
Eight Arab commandos (from the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September) broke into the Olympic compound in Munich. In an attempt to create time for an escape, Joseph Gottfreund tried to block off the door to the quarters in order to stall the intruders. He told his colleagues to leave the premises. The terrorist shot and killed him immediately along with Yaakov Springer, the weightlifting referee.
Those in the adjoining apartments who were not woken by the muffled cries were woken from the sounds of machine guns. The commandos then took nine others of the eighteen-member Israeli Olympic team hostage. They then settled into the compound for a siege. The terrorists imprisoned and tied up the athletes and their coaches inside the apartments. They were moved into one of the delegates’ room where they were guarded by eight of the terrorists. Their weapons included sub-machine guns, pistols and grenades. Moshe Weinberg, a wrestling referee, and Joseph Romano, a weightlifter, were killed during an effort to free themselves from the terrorists.
Their reasons for holding the Israelis hostage were that they wanted to persuade the release of two hundred Arab guerrillas that were being held in Israel. The terrorists demanded that the prisoners be flown from Israel to an Arab country, allowing them free passage. West German officials negotiated with the Arab commandos with the help of the Tunisian Ambassador and the representative of the Arab League from Bonn. But unfortunately, this has no effect on what the commandos were trying to accomplish. Their demands were unreasonable, and the Israeli side would not budge from its views. In an attempt to save some of the Israeli hostages, two West German ministers of the interior offered themselves as replacements for the hostages. The Arabs refused this offer.
It was obvious that the negotiations over the release of the hostages were not going to work. A new plan was put into effect. West German officials started to focus their time on getting the Arabs and their hostages out of the Olympic Village. This would allow German sharpshooters to put some control over the commandos. This seemed like a better alternative a pose to storming the compound and dangering the lives of the Israeli hostages and other athletes.
Negotiations lasted until shortly after 9:00 p.m. The West Germans has successfully persuaded the Arab commandos to leave the compound with their hostages. The commandos agreed to leave on a flight to an Arab country together with their hostages. They made their was towards the Furstenfeldbruck military airport, a fifteen mile trek away from Munich. The Arab commandos anticipated that something could threaten their plans. In order to control their hostages they split them up into two groups and tied and blindfolded them. They were also aware of two potential traps the West Germans had set for them.
The sharpshooters were placed along the path the Arab commandos had to walk their hostage’s two helicopters that had flown them from Munich to a waiting jet. The nine Israeli sportsmen were led out handcuffed to each other to two helicopters, which were to fly them to the airport. This was the only opportunity the West Germans had to prevent the Arabs from leaving the country. As the first group of Arabs and hostages walked to the jet, shots rang out. No one is certain who opened fire first (be it the West German Sharpshooters or the Arab commandos). However when the West Germans began firing, or firing back, that was the beginning of the shooting of the Israeli hostages. The second commando group had barely left their helicopter. One commando fired into the helicopter, another threw a grenade into it, killing the second group of hostages. In the end all nine Israeli hostages had been killed, five Arab commandos had been killed, and three had been wounded.
The remaining Israeli team decided to leave the Olympic games but the Committee did not cancel the games following the murders. The games were put back on after only a twenty four-hour break period. This left the world shocked and offended. Israel’s call to halt the Games was left unnoticed, for no other Olympic team joined them in their boycott. However five other athletes, non-Jewish, left the Games for reasons of conscience. Germany’s hopes for peaceful games, devoid of politics died too. But the Olympic spirit was too strong to snuff out.
Twenty five years later a bombing occurs at Centennial Olympic Park, where thousands of visitors had gathered on the ninth day of the 1996 Summer Olympics. The bomb had been placed near the main stage in the park. When it went off it injured one hundred and eleven people and killed one, Alice Hawthorne, a mother who had traveled to Atlanta with her daughter to see the Olympics. This incident also caused a Turkish cameraman to die of a heart attack responding to the blast. The bomb was improvised and homemade. “The fatal bombing in Atlanta was a terrorist attack aimed at thousands of innocent persons gathered at the Olympic Park,” said the director of the FBI. Once again, another Olympics are squandered in the shadow of terrorism.
The bombing at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta was not the first time an Olympic Games had been disrupted by terrorism. The Munich disaster had happened in 1972. The lasting images of those Olympic Games are that of a terrorist in a ski mask, and not an athlete in triumph. In contrast to the Atlanta blast, the bomb was placed in an unsecured public area while the Munich attack involved penetrated security and was aimed at the athletes themselves and the nation they represented.
Munich’s attack though has prevented other similar situations from happening. Since 1972, the general public has submitted to security searches in airports, arenas and other public events. Living with the possibility of terrorism has made everyone just a little bit more aware of what could happen. With a society as violent as the one existing now, the Olympics are fortunate that they have only been threatened with terrorism twice. But if society keeps progressing the way it is right now, terrorism in more sporting events will be inevitable.
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