VANOC: Own the hokum

Never mind the money, the greed, the lies, the censorship – the most offensive aspect of the Vancouver Winter Olympics is the profound lack of sportsmanship Canada is displaying to the whole world. BRIAN JONES*, The Telegram

(February 19, 2010) – In Olympia, Greece, you can walk onto the field where – long before the era of corporate sponsorships and high-tech cheating – races were held during the original, ancient Olympics.

There are gentle slopes on two sides of the field, from which spectators watched the events.

Amazingly enough, the starting line is still there. It is a long, thin marble slab embedded in the ground. It looks like a white line, about six inches wide. You can put your toe on it and stand in the exact spot where, 2,000 and more years ago, Olympians lined up to start a race.

Of course, you have to wonder whether it is the real thing. There has long been a trend to “reconstruct” historical sites, and the tourism industry has done an odiously successful job worldwide of turning history into mere entertainment.

But Olympia seems authentic enough. The carved stones of collapsed columns lie strewn where they fell over the centuries, resting like headstones on the memories of past glories.

Win or else

Never mind the money, the greed, the lies, the censorship – the most offensive aspect of the Vancouver Winter Olympics is the profound lack of sportsmanship Canada is displaying to the whole world.

The Canadian Olympic Committee’s “Own the Podium” program would be funny if they were only half serious. But they’re entirely serious. They’re earnest. They’re driven. And they’re an embarrassment to any parent or coach who makes an effort to teach children about good sportsmanship.

For anyone who missed the propaganda campaign, the Own the Podium program was hatched after Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Olympic Games. The gist of it was that millions of dollars of extra funding for athletes, equipment and training would – must – lead to more Olympic gold medals.

Just to be clear, I’m in favour of spending taxpayers’ money on sports, and giving financial support to Olympic athletes. I hope Canadians win neckfuls of medals of all hues.

But the really revolting thing about Own the Podium – other than the obnoxious phrase itself – is the contempt it shows toward athletes from other countries.

The first goal

Maybe showing contempt for your opponent is contagious, and the Canadian Olympic Committee caught a case of it from Wayne Gretzky.

Canadians mainly remember the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City for the dramatic triumph of the men’s hockey team.

But the team wasn’t playing very well early on. Gretzky – the team manager, and the second-greatest player of all time – held a news conference and without a shred of shame told the TV cameras and forest of microphones the main problem was that the players didn’t “hate” their opponents enough. To beat the Russians, you have to hate them, the Great One said.

It was a perfectly Canadian hockey moment – crass, ugly, vulgar and utterly without class. A lot like Own the Podium.

People in charge of professional hockey and the Canadian Olympic Committee share an unfortunate trait. They are unaware of the concept that it is possible to admire your opponent. It’s even possible to like him (or her, or them). Not only is it possible, it’s preferable.

You have a lot in common, after all.

It is not necessary, or admirable, to aim to “own” anything – your opponent, the game, the podium. Such an attitude is arrogant, contemptible and unsportsmanlike. (Equally important, it risks angering the hockey gods.)

Sporting ethics seem alien to the Canadian Olympic Committee, and its parent International Olympic Committee.

If they were allowed to, those people would sell to the highest bidder the right to carve a company logo into that marble slab in Olympia.

*Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at bjones@thetelegram.com.

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