By Dan Falloon, Sports reporter
Criticism of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games has been around for years.
I was at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 2008 when accordion player and Vancouver native Geoff Berner played a song claiming a coroner’s office in British Columbia closed down while the government was trying to pay for the Games.
At the time, sleep-deprived and rain-drenched, I was influenced by the chorus that wailed “the dead, dead children were worth it” and made myself promise to strongly consider not watching the Olympics.
Being a sports fan, I couldn’t bring myself to promise something like that so far in advance. And sure enough, my athletic curiosity has led me to catch events whenever possible.
From a couple of disappointing performances of the Canadian men’s hockey team to Maelle Ricker’s gold in women’s snowboard-cross, I’ve been fairly enthralled with watching the telecasts. I still can’t help but ponder, however, whether tuning in is in a moral grey area.
Cutting services to basically pay for entertainment obviously isn’t a good start. Sure, Vancouver will see benefits in years to come, having built or improved infrastructure that will be used in the coming years and, hopefully, entice tourists into a return visit when the Games aren’t turning the city upside down.
Perhaps the much-ballyhooed Olympic ideal needs to come into play.
It’s the thought that while athletes come to represent their countries, people can come together for friendly competition and set all other things aside, like war and politics and all that other junk.
Political controversy seems to dog the Olympics wherever they go. Rumours abound that the British press is slagging the Vancouver Games in the harsh way that it is to deflect attention from the Summer Games that will be hitting London in just over two years.
Those Olympics are unpopular in England for many of the same reasons that hounded the Vancouver Games, with the cost overruns and cuts to services.
And the only way I can really rationalize the Games is just to set aside all the political stuff.
Even in this Olympiad, the International Olympic Committee itself has engaged in some petty quarrels. For example, before the Games even began, the IOC asked the Australian national team to take down its flag of a boxing kangaroo because it was a trademarked symbol.
It wasn’t commercial, which was likely one of the reasons it was allowed to stay up in the end. And it’s actually the Australian Olympic Committee which owns the trademark. Gosh.
Of course, two of the Olympics’ main partners, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, are somewhat recognizable commercial trademarks. And the use of the products they represent are huge reasons why Olympians are able to make it to the Games, too.
And just on Monday, the Canadian Olympic Committee backtracked on its pledge to “own the podium” at these Games after medals won by Canadian athletes started trickling in at a slower-than-expected pace.
The problem is that in all this grandstanding (or, in this case, backing off the grandstanding) and petty arguments, sometimes the athletes themselves get lost in all of it.
Did easy-going skeleton gold-medallist Jon Montgomery want to pick the kangaroo fight with the Australians? Doubt it.
Montgomery, like all the other athletes at the Games, just wanted to compete in his sport at the highest level, and in this case, it’s the Olympics, whose organizers seem to make some questionable decisions.
Certainly, the athletes have been front-and-centre, and rightfully so, but while the Olympics have taken on a critical commercial significance, of which I’m critical, I’ll admit the effect of the dirty sponsor money on the athletes in attendance has brought about some tremendous performances.
Still, taking into consideration the political ramifications of the Games, yeah, they probably do more harm than good—at least in the short run.
But the thing is, for all the athletes except the men’s hockey players, this is the one moment in the sun. After the Games, the vast majority of them will slide back into everyday training and the world championships in their own sports, and basically be forgotten by everyone but the hardcore fans of their sport until the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia are ready to roll around.
The Olympics’ undivided attention should be focused on these athletes and, basically in the spirit of the Olympic ideal, let’s drop the politics for a couple weeks.
This means, yes, the IOC and COC, should speak only when needed, and certainly plan for those occasions to be few and far between.
And the protestors, many of whom have a legitimate point that deserves to be heard on an Olympic-sized stage, could at least try to get their messages out without vandalizing downtown department stores.
There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad with every Olympiad, it seems, but it also seems like most people see one or the other.
Those wearing the Maple Leaf glasses know there’s nothing wrong with cheering and hooting and hollering now that the Games are happening, regardless of how they were paid for, but it’s important that they know the true cost of hosting and who is affected because of it.
On the other side, those who see only the negatives should be able to realize that these athletes’ dreams are being recognized through hard work and determination—even if the majority of the organizers who set the stage for those to happen are a bunch of clowns.
If these people have any interest in watching, they should realize it’s okay to sit down, have a brew, and watch a blue-collar kid try to attain glory.
The Olympic ideal isn’t as practised as much as organizers would like to make you believe, but sometimes it seems well worth it to give it a shot.
By Dan Falloon, Sports reporter