Ready or Not

By Wade, Jared | Risk Management, August 2004 | Go to article overview

Ready or Not


Wade, Jared, Risk Management


Throughout the first 10 days of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, the spirit of friendly competition prevailed as the world watched each nation's best athletes vie for supremacy in their chosen events. American swimmer Mark Spitz became a legend when he made history by becoming the first athlete to ever win seven gold medals, and Russian gymnast Olga Korbut captured the hearts of millions while revolutionizing her sport.

Then at 4:40 a.m. on September 5, the unthinkable occurred. Eight terrorists of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) scaled a chain-link fence and raided the Israeli team quarters, where they took 11 members of its wrestling team hostage. Stalled negotiations eventually moved the standoff to Furstenfeldbruck airbase, where the West German police ambushed the terrorists. In the ensuing firefight, four terrorists and one police officer were slain. The PLO killed all 11 Israeli hostages, shocking the world. The horror of the ordeal, especially over the deaths of the hostages, will forever be told by ABC announcer Jim McKay: "They're all gone."

The Munich police's lack of training and poor operational execution underscored what was then a global dearth in counterterrorism expertise. In the years that followed, most nations developed highly effective means for dealing with terrorist attacks. But despite such efforts, the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta became another terrorist victim when a bomb blast at the Game's Centennial Park killed two people and injured over 100. That crime remains officially unsolved, though its chief suspect, Eric Rudolph, is in FBI custody after a lengthy manhunt.

This year's Games in Athens will be the first summer Olympics since the attacks of September 11th, and many people fear another major terrorist attack. To further complicating matters, many major event venues--including the main Olympic Stadium itself--were far from complete less than three months prior to the Opening Ceremonies, which will take place on August 13.

Athens organizers and members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) continue to insist that security will not be a problem, but this has done little to ease the minds of many athletes, spectators and journalists. "I see that some of the facilities aren't done, I see some security issues," Jermaine O'Neal of the Indiana Pacers told the Detroit News. "You see so many things going on right now ... but you can't control people strapping bombs to their bodies and going into [a crowd] ... It's a lifelong dream [to compete in the Olympics], and I never would have thought I'd be in this position to put on a U.S.A. jersey. But it's kind of a double-edged sword: If you don't have your life and your safety, you've got nothing."

O'Neal has since withdrawn from the U.S. basketball team, officially citing a sprained knee that he suffered during this year's Eastern Conference Finals. He joins a long list of NBA All-Stars to either formally withdraw from the team or decline invitations including Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Karl Malone, Vince Carter, Mike Bibby, Shaquille O'Neal, Ray Allen and this year's reigning MVP, Kevin Garnett. Though some players did suffer late-season injuries and none have officially cited security issues as a reason not to play, terrorism has been a large subject of concern throughout NBA circles this year, which has prompted the possibility that the team will not stay in the Olympic Athlete Village but instead on a luxury cruise ship which would be docked nearby.

"The way things are now, I wouldn't feel very comfortable sending my wife, son, daughters or anybody overseas," head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Garnett, Flip Saunders, told a local paper. "A lot of things that have happened have been [terrorists] trying to make big splashes. Well, there's no bigger splash in the world this summer than the Olympics."

But it is not only the Dream Teamers that fear a potential nightmare in Athens. …

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