Memories of Munich haunt Crosswhite
Memories of Munich haunt Crosswhite

Perry Crosswhite witnessed the birth of sports terrorism, so it's with experience and a heavy conscience he leads Australia's team to the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

Crosswhite and his Australian basketball teammates returned to the Olympic village in Munich on September 5, 1972 after beating West Germany by one point to rumours there had been an incident.

They soon learned 11 Israeli athletes and coaches had been killed by Palestinian terrorists in their village apartments.

"When we went over there it was friendly and open, until the attack. No one expected it and it changed things forever," Crosswhite said.

"We'd now become a target. We came to the realisation we were part of the real world."

Four years later at the Montreal Olympics, armed Canadian soldiers escorted Crosswhite and the rest of the athletes on their buses.

Nearly four decades on and the scene is sadly familiar.

The 7000 athletes at the Delhi Commonwealth Games have armed police and soldiers in front, behind and beside their bus as they move between venues in a city which the Australian government says has a "high risk" of terrorist attack.

Crosswhite, the chief executive of the Australian Commonwealth Games Association, says the decision to bring a team of athletes, some as young as 15, into such an environment has weighed heavily on him.

"I thought about that long and hard and at the end of the day you let people make their own decisions," he said.

"We talked to everyone about the security ... it was a situation we weighed up. Do you take away an opportunity for someone to compete in something like this on the basis of something that might happen? We had reports that the protection was going to be significant, if not over the top."

With two days to go before the opening ceremony, he admits it still troubles him.

"I'm not getting much sleep," he said.

"It's a big responsibility, because our whole approach was to let the athletes make their own minds up, but you know at the end of the day they'll make their minds up based on what we said we'd do for them and how we'd look after them. And that does weigh on your mind.

"But you look at the athletes and they look at you with bright eyes and smiles and say we're here to compete and we're here for a good time.

"People in a care situation, we're the ones who are going to work hard all the Games. I don't see any time when we'll be able to relax."

Three Australian athletes have pulled out due to concerns over fears of a terrorist attack on the Games, but Crosswhite has full confidence in the security measures put in place both by the Australian team and the Indian authorities.

The West Australian

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