by SHENIAH LANIER
Special to The Tystenac
On Sept. 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorists belonging to the political group Black September invaded the Israeli apartments in the Olympic Village at Munich, West Germany.
According to official Olympic reports, the incident resulted in the deaths of 11 members of the Israeli team as well as five Palestinians and one police officer.
“It was unbelievable for everyone there and for the whole world,” said Yan Boutmy as he sat on a panel discussing threat assessment at the Olympics during Tiffin University’s Elite Sport and Culture Week.
Boutmy said he fenced for the Netherlands in the Olympic Games in 1964 and 1968 and was in Munich in 1972.
“I didn’t know if the Games would continue,” he said.
What happened in Munich was not a stand-alone event. In July of 1996, a bomb exploded in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. According to The New York Times, the incident resulted in one death and 111 injuries.
“It was a difficult moment,” said Sebastian Keitel, who represented Chile in the 200-meter dash that year. Keitel said one of his fellow teammates was injured in the blast.
Keitel said he observed an increased military presence in the aftermath of the bombing.
He added that he was assigned a police escort to help ensure his safety as he navigated the Olympic Village and greater Atlanta area.
Gary Morgan, who participated in the 1988 Games for track and field on behalf of the United States, said he was also in Atlanta in 1996. He said he visited Centennial Park following the bombing, and he corroborated Keitel’s account of increased security and police.
Liston Bochette, who represented the U.S. for bobsledding from 1984 until 2002, said moments like those experienced in Munich and Atlanta were “wake-up calls” for the international Olympic community. He said these events forced people to work more closely together to protect competitors and spectators.
“The biggest budget item [for the Olympics] is security,” Bochette said.
Morgan described some of the ways that the Olympic organization currently attempts to prevent terrorist attacks from occurring in the future.
He said that, among other tools, the Olympic organization uses “bomb-sniffing dogs,” helicopters, assigned credentials, fencing and restrictive entry and exit points.
Countries also typically implement a “no-fly zone” over the Olympics’ host city for the duration of the event, Morgan said.
Bochette added that the Olympics organization has also used “ticket-tracking” and background checks in recent years.
Dean Greenaway, another panel contributor and freelance journalist from the U.S. and British Virgin Islands who competed in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, added that he saw security officials use “mirrors to look under busses and cars” for suspicious materials. He said that such measures “limits people to do destruction, theoretically.”
Bochette echoed Greenaway’s statement, saying that there is always the issue of “human error” to consider in such critical situations.
When posed with the question of how events like Munich and Atlanta might be avoided in the future, the panelists offered similar insights.
“If we could keep politics out of sports, everything will be safe,” Greenaway said.
He also said it is important to prepare Olympians for “what is possible” and address their concerns before the Games.
“Don’t let egoism and politics get in the way of what the Games are about,” Bochette also advised.
Keitel called for the exclusion of politics from the event as well. He said that the Olympics should be about sports “regardless of political or religious differences between countries.”
He also proposed greater efforts to educate the public on what it means to be an Olympian.
But what it means to be an Olympian is different in the current geopolitical environment than it was in earlier years, Greenaway said.
“We weren’t faced with the threats that current Olympians are,” he said.
“We are here to tell you what’s happened, what’s happening,” Bochette added, addressing the majority student audience as the discussion came to a close. “It’s up to your generation to decide [how to address terrorism in these settings].”