February 24, 2010

sea of red and white. really?

I just returned from watching the pyrotechnics at Robson Square.  There was somebody waving a Canadian flag as a part of the show and there were lots of red and whites in the crowd.  At first, I thought it was charming.  But then ...

Wait a second!  This is the Olympics.

Aren't there, like, a gazillion different countries represented at these games?

It seems to me that we are on a weird bend that I simply don't recognise.  And I don't think I like it.

Take the "Own the Podium" campaign.  I am sorry.  I am totally embarrassed by this.  It isn't that I don't think we should support our athletes and cheer for them (I do).  It's not that I think we should not "go for the gold".  We should.

It's this:  We are the host nation.  "Owning" the podium not only seems unattainable, so we look like idiots who are in for some serious hubris, it is also poor hosting manners.  So I kind of wish that the campaign, with the same financing and push for excellence, was maybe worded a bit more tastefully.

Instead, hosting these games has allowed our government, or VANOC, or someone with some power, the right to give or limit the time non-Canadian athletes get to practice in the venues.  Given that (a) the ice is soft at the rinks because we are at sea level as opposed to hard at higher altitudes and (b) the degree of difficulty, not to mention danger, of the sliding, skiing and snowboarding tracks has given us not so much the "home team advantage" as a leg up.

Um, how can you claim to be the "best", deserving of medals, if you have these kinds of advantages, especially on the tracks that are more dangerous than average?  I know.  Unfair advantages include other elements, like access to nutrition, the best gear, money for training, etc.  But really?  Really?  I have a much harder time celebrating our wins on those harder tracks just knowing that our athletes had the advantage of so much more time to practice and master the curves and drops.

Forgive me (or not) but this seems a bit like cheating to me.  I don't get the sporting spirit in this.  Is it about winning at any cost?

What would the sporting events look like if we cheered all of the winners, and indeed, all of the participants?  What would speedskating look like if certain teams weren't knocking over any other team to go for Gold?  What would Luge look like without an openning day death?

I don't dislike winning.  I don't think the program called "Own the Podium" is a failure.  I am in support of my taxes being used to fully support sports, the arts, and the CBC.  These are the things that truly unite a country.  I definitely want our products to be the best in the world.  But I want to achieve that goal on merit, hard work and integrity.

If this "win at any cost" attitude is what the Olympic spirit is about, I can't say I love it.  I find it disconcerting.  I wonder how we can "celebrate" the coming together of athletes to compete at an elite level without losing our manners and forgetting what makes us, Canadians, unique and proud.

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