Friday, September 3, 2010

Olympic Sized Double Standard - Amateur or Professional Athletes?

This article was first published in the September 3rd edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by Main Street Week News to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

In this week’s column, I would like to discuss a topic that has concerned me for several years and has resurfaced in the news yet again; are the Olympic Games for amateur or professional athletes? For years, more and more sports in the Games have included professional athletes, while the Olympic Committees continue to claim it is a wonderful gathering of amateur athletes from around the world. Recent events involving one of the greatest men’s figure skaters, Evgeni Plushenko, has The Voice of Sport all fired up!

While I never thought I would be writing a column that involved men’s figure skating, the decision by the International Skating Union (ISU), which is the governing body for the sport, to disqualify Plushenko from all future ISU events, which includes the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia is beyond ridiculous. His crime? Participating in exhibition events without the permission of the ISU or Russian Skating Federation - how dare he! The rule is in place to prevent the top figure skaters from claiming an injury to skip the World Championship and then taking part in paid events shortly afterwards, but if nothing else, Plushenko’s actions only increased the popularity of his sport. He had the opportunity to appeal the ban, but missed the deadline.

In an era when multi-millionaires are competing for Olympic gold in the Summer and Winter Games, why does the ISU continue to rule their sport in such a heavy-handed manner? There is a double standard applied to Olympic events and the International Olympic Committee must address this issue. When Canadian skater, Joannie Rochette, wished to honour her mother after the Vancouver Games, the ISU threatened her with the same punishment because the event was an “unsanctioned” one. If not for a last minute change of heart by the ISU, Rochette would have to choose - honour her mother or continue her Olympic and World Championship dreams. It is a decision that placed an extra burden on the skater, viewed by the world as a true role model after her heart-warming bronze medal performance in Vancouver.

Television ratings for the 2010 Games in Vancouver were through the roof in large part due to the inclusion of NHL players in the hockey tournament. Since the American “Dream Team” competed in the Summer Games’ basketball tournament in 1992 and the IOC cashed in on their presence, athletes from North America’s professional leagues have slowly made their way into numerous events. When Major League Baseball refused to suspend their season and send MLB players like Alex Rodriguez (a player that makes $30 million per year by the way), to the Summer Games, the IOC dropped the sport from competition. Now the IOC has rolled out the red carpet for professional golfers in 2016 - Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and the entire PGA field will have the opportunity to take their private jets to the Olympics and compete for a gold medal. However, if you are a figure skater and wish to spend the off-season skating with the Ice Capades and Cookie Monster and Big Bird, well then you just became a “professional” athlete and you are no longer welcome at the World Championship or Olympics.

My interest and respect for the merchandise machine known as the Olympics continues to dwindle. In my view, what was once a strong river of national pride is becoming a muddy, stagnant, outdated pond of greed. Here’s hoping the ISU and the IOC get their act together and include Plushenko in the 2014 Games. An injustice in the world of figure skating has The Voice all fired up - Trust me folks, I am as surprised as you are... Have a great sports day everyone.

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