Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

Last month, during the European Athletics Championships in Munich, my Italian friend and colleague Franco Fava was recalling how he took part in the 1972 Games held in the city's Olympic stadium.

As he described the process by which he had qualified for the men's 3,000 metres steeplechase as an excited 19-year-old, breaking the Italian record at the last minute to earn a place in the team, his face shone.

But soon it darkened as he recalled how the Italian apartments at the Athletes' Village in Connollystraße had, by alphabetical determinism, abutted those of the Israeli representatives. Eleven of whom never returned from those Games after the militant operation set in motion by the Palestinian Black September group on September 5 - 50 years ago tomorrow.

Two Israeli athletes were killed and nine other athletes and officials were taken hostage, subsequently dying in a shoot-out at Furstenfeldbruck, a local North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airbase, after a monumentally and disastrously flawed security operation, before and after, by the relevant German authorities.

"The feeling I got yesterday when I got through to the stadium, the triathlon race was going on with a lot of kids, people around, and it was a really fantastic atmosphere," Fava said.

"And I had for a second a sense of… bad feeling. On one hand, I said 'I feel young again, like 50 years ago.' 

"But remembering what happened in 1972 to the Israel team, I thought, this is a festival for everybody in a place where we still have some polemics from the families of the people who died on the Israel team.

"As a journalist I was here at the 2002 European Championships. And I paid tribute when I came here in 2002 - I went to check again our building in Connollystraße, next to the Israeli building. 

"I went to a monument commemorating those who died. I took part in a small ceremony but I was disappointed because it was very low key.

"The morning after the attack in the Athletes' Village I went outside to run, and that was when I had my picture taken and put on the front of the front of the local paper, with a story along the lines of 'life going on'.

One of the eight Black September terrorists pictured on the balcony of an apartment housing Israeli athletes at the Munich 1972 Olympics ©Getty Images
One of the eight Black September terrorists pictured on the balcony of an apartment housing Israeli athletes at the Munich 1972 Olympics ©Getty Images

"Although the Israeli quarters were just next to us we did not need to pass it to get outside.

"But at that time I didn’t understand what had happened. To be honest I only realised 100 per cent what happened two days later when I went back home. I read the papers, watched TV.

"It was so easy to get into the Athletes' Village in 1972."

As regards the polemics to which Fava referred - the longstanding grief and grievances of family members affected by the 1972 attack have just been ameliorated to the point where they will now take part in tomorrow's official commemoration event in Munich.

On Wednesday (August 31) the long-standing dispute over compensation from the German Government and Bavarian authorities for the bereaved families was resolved after an additional €28 million (£24.2 million/$28.1 million) in compensation was offered by Germany according to news agency DPA.

Victims' families had described previous offers by the German Government as "an insult".

Fava's assessment of the lack of security within the Athletes' Village was manifestly true.

In large part it was down to a decision by the Munich 1972 organisers to run what was to be known as Die Heiteren Spiele (The Cheerful Games), with its general atmosphere, and even the light, airy stadium design intended to counterpoint the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which had taken place in a monumental arena to a backdrop of nationalistic fervour and Nazi ideology.

If anything, the events preceding the former summer Olympics in Mexico four years earlier, when hundreds of protesting students were gunned down by Government forces in Tlatlelolco Plaza, had compounded that resolve.

When one considers the historical and political forces that came to bear on the Munich 1972 Games, both in Europe and the Middle East, what came to pass there could truly be described as tragic.

The world was watching as the grim drama played out at the Athletes' Village in Connollystraße on September 5 ©Getty Images
The world was watching as the grim drama played out at the Athletes' Village in Connollystraße on September 5 ©Getty Images

Thus security was established in a softly, softly mode - without armed guards. Only a six-foot link fence stood between the Athletes' Village and anyone. 

On the night when the eight Black September militants moved in, dressed in tracksuits and with guns and grenades in their duffel bags, they were unwittingly assisted over the fence by athletes taking a similar short-cut entry in the early hours of the morning.

As Philip Larkin wrote in MCMXIV, "Never such innocence again."

With the nine surviving hostages under armed guard, negotiations began between the Palestinian group and home politicians along with the Munich police chief.

The demand was for the liberation of more than 200 Palestinians held in Israeli jails and of Red Army faction leaders Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof from German imprisonment. Offers of unlimited funds were rejected. It wasn’t about money.

Because of restrictions in the post-war West German constitution the army could not participate in the attempted rescue, as the German armed forces were not allowed to operate inside Germany during peacetime.

It was reported that, once the hostage ultimatums had been made, Germany turned down an offer for an Israeli special forces unit.

The responsibility was thus entirely in the hands of the Munich police and the Bavarian authorities.

A group of 38 armed border police in tracksuits was assembled, none of whom had experience in combat or hostage rescue. As they moved into the area around the Israeli apartment their actions were broadcast live to the watching world - which included the terrorists inside. The operation was called off.

When the hostage-takers were persuaded to travel with their hostages via helicopters to Furstenfeldbruck, the police marksmen who awaited them were too few, inexperienced, equipped with unsuitable rifles, lacking night sights, lacking walkie-talkies.

West German police stationed in the airplane supposedly having been made ready for a getaway unilaterally exited it without consulting central command. Once the plane was discovered to be empty by two of the Palestinian group, a chaotic gun battle began.

Once the shooting stopped, all the hostages had been killed by the terrorists, of whom three survived, and one police marksman in the control tower had also been shot dead. 

Incredibly, reports had gone out worldwide earlier that all the hostages were safe.

A few hours later ABC host Jim McKay, who’d been broadcasting from the Olympic village for 14 hours, relayed a tragically different account:

"When I was a kid, my father used to say, 'Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realised.'

"Our worst fears have been realised tonight. They've now said that there were 11 hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone."

Members of the Israeli team mourn during a memorial ceremony held on September 6 1972 at the Munich Olympic stadium after 11 of their party had been killed by Palestinian Black September terrorists ©Getty Images
Members of the Israeli team mourn during a memorial ceremony held on September 6 1972 at the Munich Olympic stadium after 11 of their party had been killed by Palestinian Black September terrorists ©Getty Images

In the wake of the hostage-taking, competition was suspended for 34 hours, for the first time in modern Olympic history, after public criticism of the International Olympic Committee's original decision to continue with the Games. 

On September 6 a memorial service attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes was held in the Olympic Stadium, where the IOC President, Avery Brundage, made little reference to the murdered athletes during a speech praising the strength of the Olympic movement and equating the attack on the Israeli sportsmen with the recent arguments about encroaching professionalism and disallowing Rhodesia’s participation in the Games, which outraged many listeners.

The victims' families were represented by Andre Spitzer's widow Ankie, Moshe Weinberg's mother, and a cousin of Weinberg, Carmel Eliash. During the memorial service, Eliash collapsed and died of a heart attack.

En route from the stadium to the train station next to the former Athletes' Village there is memorial for the Munich Massacre, which comprises a video loop documentary and accounts of the victims on stone slabs, with a personal memento at the bottom of each biography.

The item commemorating weightlifter Ze’ev Friedman is a postcard he sent from Munich on August 26, 10 days before his death. His parents received it weeks later. It signed off with the words: "See you soon at home."

In the months prior to the Games, the Munich Olympics Organising Committee had asked police psychologist Georg Sieber to "tabletop" dozens of worst-case security scenarios. 

Among the 26 possibilities proposed by Sieber was one involving a dozen Palestinian gunmen scaling the fence of the Olympic Village at 5:00 AM, seizing Israeli hostages, killing one or two, and issuing a demand for the release of prisoners from Israeli jails and an aircraft to fly them to the Middle East.

The Organising Committee determined that preparing for threats such as those proposed by Sieber would create a security environment that was not in keeping with their vision for the Games. Within hours of the attack on the Olympic Village, Sieber was dismissed from his advisory position.

Following this seismic international event relations between Germany and Israel - uniquely sensitive given the events of the Second World War - were vexed and trammelled for many years amidst claims that the German authorities had covered up the political and operative failures and misjudgements that had contributed to the fate of the Israeli team members.

Less than a year later Germany had established a special counter-terrorism unit, GSG-9.

A visitor pictured during last month's European Athletics Championships in Munich at the memorial established in the Olympic Park five years ago to the 1972 Israeli victims ©Getty Images
A visitor pictured during last month's European Athletics Championships in Munich at the memorial established in the Olympic Park five years ago to the 1972 Israeli victims ©Getty Images

Meanwhile an initiative was established in Israel that would become known as Operation Wrath of God.

While there were subsequent suggestions from senior members of the Israeli secret service Mossad that this was not an act of retribution but a safeguard against similar attacks in future, it had the feel of retribution. That said, it was believed to have continued for 20 years.

The Black September group had been founded in 1971 to seek retribution on Jordan's military and ruler King Hussein after the forceful quashing of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) attempt at seizing power from the monarch in September 1970. The name was chosen to commemorate that clash, during which thousands of Palestinians were either killed or expelled and the PLO was driven out of Jordan.

From October 1972 onwards a number of those suspected by Israel of being connected to actions against them were assassinated.

In 1973 a group of commandos entered Beirut and killed Abu Yusuf, believed to be the head of the Black September group, Kamal Adwan, head of the PLO within Israel, and PLO spokesman Kamal Nassir.

There was an ongoing search to locate Ali Hassan Salameh, whom Israel believed to be the mastermind behind the Munich operation. On July 21, 1973 Israeli secret police (Mossad) agents shot and killed a man they believed to be Salemeh in Lillehammer, who turned out to be a Moroccan waiter, Ahmed Bouchiki.

The operation was halted, but recommenced when Menachem Begin succeeded Golda Meir as Prime Minister.

On January 22, 1979 Salameh was killed along with four bodyguards by a car bomb that also killed four innocent bystanders, including a British student and a German nun.

The three surviving hostage-takers - Jamal Al-Gashey, Adnan Al-Gashey and Mohammad Safady - had been released from German custody on October 29, 1972 in exchange for hostages on board a hijacked Lufthansa Flight 615, and travelled to Libya, where they went into hiding.

Pictures of some of the Israeli athletes and officials killed during the Munich Massacre on show at the 2017 opening of the permanent memorial in the Olympic Park ©Getty Images
Pictures of some of the Israeli athletes and officials killed during the Munich Massacre on show at the 2017 opening of the permanent memorial in the Olympic Park ©Getty Images

It was thought for many years that Mossad had killed Adnan Al-Gashey and Safady, but subsequent reports have suggested that the former died of heart failure in the 1970s and the latter was killed in Lebanon in the early 1980s. Another report suggested Safady is still alive, while Jamal Al-Gashey has been reported as living in Tunisia.

Two films have been made about the Operation - Sword of Gideon, directed in 1986 by Michael Anderson, and Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 2005. Both were based on the 1984 book Vengeance, by Canadian journalist George Jonas, although the accuracy of this account has been disputed by Mossad sources.

Another profound result of the 1972 Munich Massacre was the exponential growth in Olympic security budgets. Senior security consultant Neil Fergus hailed the 2004 Athens Summer Games as "the greatest security operation since Alexander the Great marched through Persia", while political scientist Ying Yu has described the 2008 Beijing Olympics as "the largest peacetime security operation in history."

A process set in motion by Munich was intensified by the detonation of a pipe bomb at Atlanta’s Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics and moved to another level following the attack on the Twin Towers in September 11, 2001, to the point where the Games are routinely regarded as the world’s largest security operations outside of war.

In a 2008 article for the Journal of Sport Management, Kristine Toohey of Griffith University and Tracy Taylor of the University of Technology, Sydney - https://opus.lib.uts.edu.au/bitstream/10453/12892/1/2007002471.pdf - outline some of the key changes that have occurred.

Games subsequent to Munich have required all involved - athletes, officials, media - to be clearly accredited. The introduction of this new system at the 1976 Montreal Games provoked much criticism, but despite that the security framework developed for those Olympics has become the paradigm for all subsequent operations.

Some academics have attributed the ballooning costs of the Montreal Games - from $310 million (£269million/€311million) to over $1.5 billion (£1.3billion/€1.5million) to additional security arrangements

Armed guards and police became conspicuous at venues and within the host city, and direct access to athletes was dramatically curtained.

"At the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games airport," the Journal of Sport Management article outlines, "security was increased and airspace restricted." 

The Organising Committee acquired 15,000 anti-anthrax tablets, and the State of Utah commissioned the design and implementation of health monitoring systems to detect and manage possible incidents of bio-terrorism.

Biometric scanners were used to identify accredited officials and athletes, and vehicles were "prohibited within 300 feet of venues and other selected buildings." 

In total, there were 60 different federal, state, and local agencies, and over 15,000 people, including 10,000 National Guardsmen, involved in Games-related security operations (Kennelly, 2005; Snider, 2002).

"It is estimated that the September 11 attacks resulted in an additional US$70 million spending on Games' security, bringing the total security budget to around US$500 million (Snider, 2002). This amount was more than double that of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games (Wicks, 2002), but far less than that of the next Games, the 2004 Athens Olympic Games."

The Athens 2004 Games have been estimated to have spent over $1.85 billion (€1.2 billion/€1.80million) on safety measures, a considerable increase on the original budget of $463 million (€300 million/€465million).

A few months before the Athens Games the United States Government Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation received statements on the topic of lessons learned from security at past Olympics.

In his opening address, the Committee chair Gordon Smith, US Senator for Oregon, commented:

"The Olympic security changed forever as a result of the tragic events of 1972's Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany…"

National Guards Military Policemen at an undisclosed location guard Black Hawk helicopters used during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games ©Getty Images
National Guards Military Policemen at an undisclosed location guard Black Hawk helicopters used during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games ©Getty Images

Among those giving evidence was Mitt Romney, then Governor of Massachusetts, whose success after taking over as President and chief executive of the flagging Salt Lake Organising Committee also revived his own political career, confirmed that security had been the largest single budget item, adding: "The amount of money that's spent on security today is greater than the amount spent for venues, spent for information technology, or spent for employees...

"In Munich, for instance, we saw perhaps the demonstration of what not to do on almost every dimension, everything from lack of co-ordination between the security agencies, the lack of co-ordination between the organiser and the security agencies, the lack of preparation or drills prior to the Games.

"All of the elements really that were seen in the Olympic security effort in Munich demonstrate the worst demonstrated practice.

"In Atlanta, there was a great deal of improvement. Atlanta had a very strong security programme. Many agencies worked very hard to secure the Games.

"But a lesson that came out loud and clear for us as we prepared for our Games in Salt Lake, in part from our discussions with organisers in Atlanta, was that there needed to be a higher degree of coordination among the various Federal, state, and local agencies, that there needed to be a more central command structure, that plans needed to be integrated between the different agencies, and that the gaps between agencies were severe enough that there was the potential for those that would  attack us to find those holes, those spaces between the various agencies.

"That was, in large measure, corrected by the time Salt Lake City came around…

"Another point. At least from my perspective, there are four phases of an effective Olympic security programme. And generally we only think of three.

"One phase is the prevention phase. That's where the intelligence is, the embedding of personnel, the wire-taps, the surveillance, and so forth. 

"Another phase is protection of assets. That's magnetometers and barriers and the like. 

"Another phase is response - SWAT teams, officers willing to move in quickly, fire teams, rescue teams, a detection of biological agents in the air, and so forth. 

"And then the final phase is the consequence management.

"Of those four phases, one is typically under-invested in and under-appreciated, and it happens to be, at least in my view, the most important. And that is prevention."