As well as non-violent protests, the Olympic Games are often targeted by terrorist groups. Terrorist attacks cause harm, both in the effect of loss of life, as well as the political implications. In the modern Olympic Games, security is paramount, with both increased security personnel as well as surveillance of terrorists. The greatest tragedy of the Olympic Games occurred in 1968 when 11 athletes were killed. Before then security at the games was relatively low-key, as it was unexpected that a terrorist group would target athletes. After Munich, the political aspect of the games was taken into much greater consideration, both in terms of the hoist country's ability to provide security and to allow the games to take place in a stable environment.

On September 5th 1972, during the games held in Munich, 8 Arab terrorists infiltrated the Olympic village, in the subsequent battles, 11 Israeli athletes were killed. This attack was by far, the worst event in Olympic history.

Terrorists at the Munich Games 1972

This attack both highlighted the need for intense security at the Olympic Games, as well as the need to consider complex political issues surrounding the games. The gunmen were members of the black September group; they entered the Olympic compound and took members of the Israeli wrestling team hostage. It was only when some members of the Israeli team escaped that authorities were alerted. The terrorists demanded planes for their escape; this resulted in a gunfight at Furstenfeldbruck airport. The German police force were insufficiently trained for this situation, this meant that they only assigned 5 snipers in security watch at the airport. This meant that several Israeli athletes died in the resulting fire fight. The result was that only 3 terrorists were captured alive and detained for interrogation, all 11 athletes that were held hostage were killed. A German police investigation found that a few of the hostages may have been inadvertently shot by German snipers.

The games were suspended for 24 hours following the attack. A memorial service was held at the stadium and was attended by over 80,000 people. The postponement of the games was unprecedented but IOC President Avery Brundage announced that “the games must go on”. Israeli competitor Mark Spitz, who had set a gold medal record by winning four individual and 3 relay swimming events, left the games over security fears.

In terms of global terrorism, this was one of the most significant events of it's time, with far reaching implications. Israel responded by setting up a numbers of teams of security agents and task forces, all those involved with the black September group were hunted down and killed or imprisoned as retaliation. The act greatly increased society's awareness of terrorism, especially as such an event came suddenly, as well as in a place expected to be peaceful. The main issue arising from the crisis was the poor management by the Olympic security staff as well as the German police force. Security around the Olympic village where the athletes stayed was very little and ill-equipped to deal with the situation. In the future the IOC had much stricter criteria on the way the games should be enforced and the capabilities of the host country in keeping the games safe and peaceful and protecting the athletes involved.

Despite a vast improvement in security of the games terrorist events still occur. IN Atlanta, one individual was able to cause significant damage as well as loss of life. The events in Munich meant that security was a far more serious consideration during future games. For example, in Sydney, 5,000 military personnel and thousands of police and intelligence officers were employed. Sydney also pioneered the use of members of the public as security personnel. Here 50,000 were trained in security matters and given powers to search, remove and detain people.

During the games held in Atlanta, a bomb was detonated in the centennial Olympic park killing two people. The bombing took place during a morning concert, although the security staff was aware of the package, and were evacuating the area, the bomb exploded. The casualties were Turkish cameraman Melih Uzunuyel and Alice Hawthorne, who was hit by shrapnel. A moment of silence was observed at all Olympic venues and the flag was flown at half-mast as a sign of respect.

Subsequent lawsuits over park security were dismissed. The main suspect identified after two years investigation was Eric Rudolph, who had been charged with other bombings. He was a wanted fugitive for 5 years until he was arrested in June 2003. He is currently awaiting trial in Alabama.

This event highlighted the need for better intelligence and surveillance.

An official planning the Australia security operation was quoted as saying the games were at much greater risk from a small individual acting alone, than from an organised groups mounting larger terrorist operations. Several organised terrorist threats, including the bombing of a nuclear reactor, to the Sydney games were foiled by extensive police monitoring and raids.

[ introduction | social | politics | economics | london 2012 ]