Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Voice on the Olympics

On the eve of the Olympics in China, let me start by saying, this will be the only Olympic posting here at The Voice, and I won't be watching one second of coverage. Why you ask? Well, I've had enough of the fumbling and bumbling of the International Olympic Committee, the politics, or lack of politics leading up to the China Games, and the constant inclusion of Professional athletes in the World Showcase of Amateur athletics.

Much has been made about the smog and air pollution in China - and a promise to clean it up; the abysmal human rights record of the host nation - and a promise to clean it up; there was to be no censorship of foreign media during the Olympics - a CNBC reporter on Prime Time with Bob McCown openly stated his e-mails will be read by the government, his cell phone will be monitored, and he is quite sure his hotel room will be bugged. Reporters speaking out against China before the Games will never get there. Reporters speaking out against China during the Games will be immediately expelled from the country. One of the problems with the demands of the IOC, is that they put no deadline in place for China to meet these goals. Why do the work? The 2008 Olympics were never going anywhere else. The games should have been pulled from China fourteen months ago and moved to Australia, where the infrastructure was already in place from the 2000 Olympic Games.

On CBC Newsworld today, David Emerson, Member of Parliament, stated now that the Games are starting "it's no longer about politics." Really? Ask the Tibetans about China's politics. Emerson went on to state he hopes "Canada's Games are only about the athletes." Why Mr. Emerson? Is it because Canada is doing all that it can to remove the poor and drug addicted from Downtown Vancouver? It could be because Canada has been criticized by the United Nations repeatedly for forcing our Native populations to live under appalling conditions on Native Reserves; where even the most basic services like clean water is often unavailable. It's the usual Canadian governmental response - none, at least nothing of substance. We could soon have "favoured Nation status" with China, meaning their citizens can travel and visit Canada with fewer restrictions, and that means revenue for Ottawa. In my opinion, now that the games have started, the political conversations should be escalating, not declining.

In Athens, Canada finished tied for 19th in medals with world powerhouse - Bulgaria. Our government began the "Road to Excellence" program with much needed funding for our amateur athletes. The Canadian program will receive $24 million over the next two years, and then $24 million per year "to ensure our summer athletes have the support they need to perform at top levels of International competition". (From a government press release, March 2, 2008). When the 2008 budget is fully implemented, the government investment in sport will be at an all time high of $164 million annually. Do we really need to spend $164 million to squeak past Bulgaria? A small side note - The Olympic Stadium in Montreal, built for the 1976 Olympics, was finally paid for in the last few years. The final cost? A staggering $2.2 billion... that's the real Olympic legacy. Back to my point... We are spending to help amateur athletes and then the Canadian Olympic Committee does this:

The case of Ottawa Marathon runner and Radiologist, Matt McInnes, represents all that is right and wrong with the games. Working in the Health Care profession, one would assume McInnes is a hard working, dedicated, respected member of the community, and he still finds time to train and compete as a Marathon runner. The Olympic standard to qualify for the Games is 2 hours, 18minutes. At the Ottawa Marathon, Giijat Machoric of Burlington finished at 2:16:55, McInnes finished right behind at 2:16:59. So where's the problem? The COC has set the Canadian standard at 2:12:38. We now have four runners who could have gone to the Olympics but are staying home because the COC feels if they can't medal, why send them. Is this what the road to excellence is for? Didn't the Olympics start as a Marathon?

The final straw has been the inclusion of professional athletes. Canadians will say, "what about hockey?" Well, there is a World Championship every year, the Junior tournament, the under 18 tournament, there used to be a Canada Cup. I can remember growing up watching Canada's National hockey team. Sean Burke standing on his head in 1988; we didn't win Gold, but how have the pro's fared? Nagano anyone?? Let's get back to China though...

A 1989 rule change by FIBA, the International governing body for basketball, allows NBA players to assemble as the U.S. "Dream Team" every four years. This is almost acceptable to me, at least the Olympics are held during the NBA off-season; why though, do FIBA's rules carry more weight then the IOC's mandate to promote the best in amateur athletics? Recently, in a secret vote, IOC members voted out baseball and softball as Olympic sports. Many believe the heavily European committee was upset that MLB and the Players Union refused to stop the season in progress every four years to send players to the Olympics. I repeat again, I can't stress this enough, the Olympics are for the best Amateur athletes in the world. A figure skater, working for the Ice Capades, can't show up at Skate Canada and qualify for the Winter Games - they are considered Professional. The Yankees third baseman, Alex Rodriguez, and his $2o million plus salary would qualify for the Olympics if the IOC had gotten their way... that's absolutely mind boggling.

As I close, let me say for the record, I do support Canadian Athletes and I believe they should be properly funded. However, when the COC and the IOC can't get themselves organized, where is our money going? Are the Olympics for pro athletes? If so, why bother continuing the charade of drug testing? Obviously the IOC wants Ad revenue and TV ratings, why not have a 5 second - 100 meter World Record?

To put things in perspective, let's take a look at the athletes from Iraq. First banned because of "administrative irregularities", the IOC overturned their decision, now they will allow the athletes to compete - both of them. There were only 7 to begin with, but 5 missed the deadlines in their sport and cannot compete because of the temporary ban. Discus thrower Haider Nasir will be joined by 21 year old sprinter, Danma Husein. The young sprinter lives in Baghdad and would occasionally have to avoid sniper fire while training. When Iraq was first banned by the IOC, she was told "there is always 2012"; her response - "In this horrible situation who can say I will even be alive in 2012."

Canadian athletes think they have funding problems? There's your reality check. I hope for $164 million we get that Kayaking Gold... but I sure won't be watching. Have a great sports day everyone.

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