Well I’m about to start class at King’s today. Exciting times. I promise to have a larger posting shortly. These computer labs are pretty sweet and the whole place is very tech-savvy. Everyone seems very cool in this place.
OLYMPICS: It’s now Day 3 of the Athens Olympics and Canadians are, surprise, surprise, not doing well. In fact, they’re on pace so far to win the lowest number of medals since the 1972 Munich Summer Games, and believe me, that’s not good. Canada won just five medals that year and no gold medals at all. And unless things start to turn around by the end of the week, Canada’s medal haul at Athens could be on par with Munich.
Now I know what you’re thinking: hasn’t Canada gotten off to poor starts medal-wise in past Olympics and come back to win some hardware in the double-digit figures? Well yes, but many of those poor starts featured a lot of near-misses and finishing in the Top 10 in many sports, specifically swimming. But so far, less than five swimmers have qualified for semi-final races in the swimming competition. Those are hardly near-misses. Sherraine MacKay, touted to win a medal in women’s fencing, was defeated on her first match. Morgan Wiebe, a medal contender in the pool, didn’t even qualify for a semi-final. More troubling is the fact Canada’s “strong” events – think rowing and swimming – are all this week, which means that Canada’s chances of earning a reasonable sum of medals have to come this week. The second week of the games features sports we aren’t known for scaring other countries for: track and field, handball and other sports that the rest of the world does very well in.
Canada has become a weak nation in terms of the Summer Games, there’s no doubt about it anymore. But I don’t blame the athletes one bit, because they’re all giving their best out there, that much is clear. Things just haven’t been going Canada’s way.
I do, however, blame the government for underfunding amateur sports in Canada. Some of my more conservative friends would argue that athletes can’t rely on governments to support them when more pressing social issues – health care funding – need to be taken care of. They’re right to a certain degree. But the Canadian government’s funding of amateur sport has been in a perpetual nose dive for nearly 20 years now, and we’re starting to see the effects of those cutbacks in our less-than-stellar performances at the Olympics. And it’s not the athletes – the reality is that in order for athletes to perform successfully at the international level, you need money. You need money to gain access to the latest technological advances in your sport, money for world-class facilities and money to travel in order to compete with as many of your sports’ peers as possible.
Australia is a good example of this. For a country with a population similar to ours, the Australian government pumps an astounding amount of money into amateur athletics. I’m not sure of the exact amount, but I know it’s in the low nine-figure range. Canada offers its’ athletes much, much less than that, let’s just say that. But the results are clear: Australia is now a global sports power. They’re doing really well at the Athens’ Olympics, and the stellar performances of Australian athletes like Ian Thorpe didn’t happen in a vacuum. They’ve been given the money they need to compete on the international stage and do well on the international stage. The argument “we can’t afford it” might have rung true during a time of fiscal crisis in Canada, but last time I checked, a modest injection of $100 million into amateur athletics is a drop in the bucket for the only country in the G-8 to have a government surplus. And shouldn’t this country be doing something to encourage physical activity to cut down on health care costs in the future?
But this being said, I also think the Canadian public needs to take some blame here too. Canadians spend, every four years, two weeks a month cheering for athletes they don’t give two hoots about during the time between the Games. We barely support them – most of them barely have enough to eat, let alone win a gold medal – with underfunding them and then turn around in self-righteous indignation when we don’t win medals? Please. You either give these athletes their due and fund them at a level that allows them to compete, or you lower your expectations accordingly. It’s that simple.
While Canada is not a Summer Games power – we’re definitely there with Austria, Norway and Sweden as a Winter Games country – our Summer Games athletes deserve better than this. Hopefully Stephen Owen, Minister of State for Sport, will be taking action after these Olympics. Our athletes shouldn’t be left out in the cold anymore.