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In Singapore, Olympic hypocrisy

Olympic Committee adds insult to injury by allowing athletes to engage in politics during games.

Olympians carry flag
Olympians carry the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore on Aug. 14, 2010. (Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — No country has suffered more grievous harm within the Olympic boundaries than Israel. At the 1972 Olympics, its team was attacked in the Olympic village by Black September terrorists; Israel and the world would watch the horror unfold, as 11 Israeli Olympians were slaughtered during a failed rescue attempt at the Munich airport.

The world has paid a lot of lip service to the tragedy. And if there is any way to divine a positive legacy from the worst moment in Olympic history, it was that the world — or at least its Olympic version — was now painfully aware of the terrorist threat. Future Olympic hosts would spend a fortune to try and assure that never again would a member of its Olympic family endure such a tragedy.

While, in the almost four decades since, the Olympics has not managed to navigate the political landscape totally unscathed — a bombing by an anti-abortionist activist in Atlanta killed one woman during that city’s ’96 games — the Games have been spared a disaster approaching the dimensions of Munich.

Yet the Olympic movement continues to allow nations like Iran to add insult to injury by refusing to allow its athletes to engage Israelis in Olympic competition. The latest example occurred at the inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore, when an Iranian did not contest a gold-medal taekwando bout against an Israeli. There is little consolation in a gold medal achieved by default and in contempt.

The Iranian action is against the Olympic credo and spirit and, if there is a need to be technical, against its formal rules as well. Iran recognizes the violation — this is not the first time an Iranian has been a no-show on the mats against an Israeli opponent — so it simply has its athlete claim a disabling injury. The injury always necessitates hospitalization so the Iranian does not face the indignity of a handshake.

An injury is always a possibility but repeated injuries when an Iranian draws an Israeli are an obvious fraud. And the Olympic movement, at its highest levels, is guilty of aiding and abetting the fraud when it takes a “don’t ask, don’t tell” view of such proceedings. It would rather maintain the pretense of one, big Olympic family than require — at the risk of suspension or expulsion — a nation to honor the words its athletes recite in the Olympic pledge at every opening ceremony.