REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION

Greetings,

Today marked Day 2 of the G.O.P’s national convention in New York City. Madison Square Garden is under the tighest security you can possibly imagine over the next few days; it’s not surprising, given the fact that President George W. Bush and his loyal band of delegates all happen to be in New York City, are heading into September and MSG is right on top of a subway station – all relatively dangerous factors for a convention of this size.

President Bush made a major blunder earlier today when he commented on the War on Terror in a pre-taped interview with NBC News: “I don’t think you can win it,” he said. Bush then added on, “I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.”

Oops. Not even the most die-hard Republican would be pleased with that omission of vulnerability.

Tonight’s the big night for the G.O.P. with the appearance of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Laura Bush. It’s all very interesting (although not particularly exciting; the Republicans’ celebrity endorsements peaks with LeeAnn Wolmack and other country music sensations like Brooks & Dunn – no big names here).

Outside, however… things are a little bit different.

The anti-Republican and anti-Bush protestors outside of MSG are involved in one of the largest public demonstrations of dissent in U.S. history. Yet Republicans will no doubt benefit from the optics of “Barbarians At The Gate” in shoring up support in their key regions like the Mid-West. The New York tactic works because liberal New York City is viewed by many Middle Americans as inherently different than the rest of the country. Having New York protestors on TV only makes the Republicans stronger in the core areas of support.

It’s a premise that only Karl Rove could love.

UPDATE TO GLOBE STORY

Greetings,

Okay, apparently it’s a different story now from the federal government on the issue of sports funding: Stephen Owen said on Canada AM today that, in fact, there’s going to be increases in funding to high-performance athletes in Canada after all.

Very strange. Very strange indeed.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON ATHENS

Greetings,

Well the games of the 28th Olympiad are officially over: the closing ceremonies (which wern’t all that impressive in comparison to the opening ceremonies, incidently) ended what was certainly a great Summer Games. Generally speaking, of course.

Athens did a fantastic job, organizing what was supposed to be a potential disaster: terrorist fears, bad planning and other problems could have ruined the Games. But none of that happened, and Athens will benefit from these Games for decades to come. Whether the country can pay for them is another matter, but that’s not something the city needs to deal with for a bit yet. All that matters is that Athens did a terrific job, and it was a fantastic Games.

This being said, Canada’s role in the Olympics was hardly the stuff of legend.

We dipped in the medals again this year to a mere 12 over-all. That’s down from Sydney’s 14 medal total and the decline seems to be having a ripple effect across the sports world: IOC President Dr. Jacques Rogge will be taking a trip to Ottawa to discuss Canada’s sub-par Olympic funding and how this may affect the Vancouver 2010 results (and if there’s one thing that Canadians take action on, it’s how powerful neighbours or allies perceive us, good or bad).

Canada’s poor performance has become front-page news throughout Canada; The Globe reported today that Stephen Owen, Minister of State For Sport, isn’t interested in putting money into high-performance athletes and more so into school level funding. I don’t get this. Again, we’re dragging our heels on this issue and refusing to acknowledge the reality we’re a second-tier nation in terms of amateur athletics. What will it take to make Canadians and the federal government realize we’re not even remotely close to being an international sports power anymore?

Part of this has to do with our extremely annoying pre-occupation with the cult of hockey. Hockey is our most important sport, no doubt, and with the World Cup of Hockey about to start our national jingoism will be hyped up to stunning and irritating proportions once again. But hockey isn’t everything. We need to do more for other sports. Unlike my friend Mike McNair, who has the idea that our sports funding is adequate and we’re not spending it correctly, we need to take a serious and hard look at our sports culture and, honestly, do what Australia is doing. Mike’s right that throwing money at athletes isn’t the solution per se, but he’s wrong in the sense that investing in resources for athletes isn’t worthwhile. Australia has got the system right, because they reward high achievers and don’t do the whole egalitarian “everybody deserves something” approach to Canadian social policy. Sports isn’t social policy – isn’t the whole point of sports to be competitive? Why not reward our best athletes when they achieve as opposed to using bureaucratic solutions to funding issues?

Case in point: Calgary. The Calgary Olympics left a legacy of sports facilities that are world-class and have created an entire generation of amazing speed skaters. Isn’t that evidence enough?

When we will we realize that pretending to be world-class isn’t the same as being world-class?

WHOA!

Greetings,

Arguably one of the strangest stories I’ve ever heard of popped up on this interweb thing today: a man in Winnipeg named Jim Sulkers was found Wednesday in his apartment after being dead for two years.

This story is even stranger because apparently Mr. Sulkers’ condo fees and bills were automatically deducted from his chequing account, and nobody thought the wiser that he might be dead.

BAD, BAD NEWS FOR CANADA

Greetings,

I wish I could be writing this posting under happier circumstances, but I can’t. Perdita Felicien fell today in the women’s 100-metre hurdles final, denying her the gold medal.

Honestly, as a fan and Canadian supporter, this stinks. Big time. I feel especially bad for Felicien, given that she was the person to beat in this competition.

I’m no longer going to write postings on the Athens Summer Olympics until the closing ceremonies.

KYLE SHEWFELT AND PERDITA FELICIEN

Greetings,

After a very good weekend showing by Canada at these now-winding down Athens Summer Olympics, Kyle Shewfelt got royally stiffed by the gymnastics judges in the vault competition. We all know the story by now; Shewfelt hits his two jumps well, yet mysteriously Marian Dragulescu of Romania somehow manages to win the bronze in spite of falling in his second jump.

Far be it for Canadians to complain about lousy judging at the Olympics (cough, cough, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, figure skating, cough), but why does this stuff keep happening? Politics isn’t supposed to be part of an apolitical event like the Olympics last time I checked, yet in sports that seem to require judges like figure skating or gymnastics, it always creeps in sooner or later. Figure skating will be watched closely at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino for the judging nonsense of Salt Lake City; gymnastics needs a serious rethink in terms of its’ own judging practices because, honestly, it’s stunning that Shewfelt lost the bronze based on two very good vaults.

Credit goes to Shewfelt – he’s a total class act and he’s our only gold medalist so far. He’s suddenly made these games not a total loss for Canada. Speaking of which, the glorious Perdita Felicien is oh-so-close to the gold medal in the 110-metre hurdles. Keep your fingers crossed – Felicien deserves the gold completely and like Shewfelt, she’s a total class act. Besides, since Gail Devers is out after an ill-fated comeback attempt (no disrespect to Devers intended, just that an athlete should know when to quit while you’re ahead) the field is pretty thin after Felicien.

OLYMPICS TURNAROUND?

Greetings,

Well this weekend is shaping up to be the turning point for Canada at the Athens Summer Games. The men’s four in the rowing competition won a silver medal this morning and there’s another two rowing teams in the finals of their respective events. Congrats to the men’s four!

I think a lot of people have been down on Canadian athletes this past week (it’s not undeserved entirely) but this could be the turning point in the Games. Hopefully we’ll see a gold medal this weekend and the Canadian national anthem being played. Keep your fingers crossed.

Incidently, major props go out to Michael Phelps, the American swimmer who won an incredible five gold medals and two bronze medals at these Summer Games. Phelps dropped out of the 4 x 100 medley relay final to give his teammate Ian Crocker a chance to win a gold medal. Phelps didn’t win the seven gold medals he was gunning hard for at these Games but he tied Mark Spitz’s record-setting four individual gold medals and set the pool ablaze with his unbelievable speed and technique. Plus, he’s got a great sense of sportsmanship by doing what he’s doing for Crocker. The swimming competition was fantastic these Games; Phelps, Ian Thorpe, the Australian and U.S. relay teams, the South Africans surprising everyone, the French finally winning a medal in the pool – it’s too bad to see the swimming events completed.

MORE OLYMPICS

Greetings,

If you’re a Canadian Olympics supporter, watching the Games isn’t so much fun these days. But things got better today with the news Karen Cockburn of Toronto won a silver medal in the women’s trampoline. But things for the Canadian team still aren’t going very well generally.

The swimming team is in major turmoil at the moment – head coach Dave Johnson is fighting for his job because a movement to get rid of him being spearheaded by former swimmers. Rowers Dave Calder and Chris Jarvis lost their final disqualification appeal at the Court of Arbitration of Sport today. Kayaker Dave Ford just missed out on a medal today because of a timing mistake. And our medal count? One bronze. No offense to our athletes, but at this time in Salt Lake City in 2002, we were among the leaders in medal totals. I know, I know, we’re more of a Winter Games country than Summer Games, but still, aren’t we supposed to be a country of immense wealth and resources that should, in theory, be producing successes in both competitions?

I wrote earlier this week about how it’s hypocritical for Canadians and our government to complain about the poor showing of our athletes when we refuse to fund them adequately. This all being said, it’s been nearly 20 years since our glorious, Soviet boycott-assisted 44 medals in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games and we’re on pace to finish with less than five at these Games.

It’s all fine and good to say the Olympics isn’t about winning medals. Some athletes do go in with the intent of personal bests and just participating in events that feature the best in the world. But in reality, medals are a key factor in determining how our athletes stand up to the rest of the world, and our performance in Athens can’t be considered a show of strength. In truth, all the near-misses and Top 10 finishes in the world can’t explain away why so many of our hot-ticket athletes like Nicholas Gill got defeated in their first-round matches, or why most of our swimmers looked totally out of their depths when competing against powerhouses like Michael Phelps or Ian Thorpe (only Mike Brown has shown he can compete with the big boys in the pool). It’s a hard reality to face, but the truth is we’re on par with countries like Slovenia or Colombia with our results so far. That’s not to disparage those countries, but those countries aren’t known to be sports powers. What does that say about Canada?

Let’s hope the genuinely poor performance of Canada in the first week of competition will be erased next week. In any case, it’s time to start the national debate again about where our amateur athletics program is headed, and what we want to do with it in the future.

GREEK SPRINTERS

Greetings,

The biggest controversy of the Athens Gmaes came a kind of conclusion today with the news that Greek sprinters Kostas Kederis and Katerina Thanou have quit the Games and will not compete in their respective sports.

This whole saga has been peculiar from the get-go. Both of them missed a drug test and were in the hospital after a motorcycle crash. Now they’re not even competing. It all smacks of something else, although I’m hesitant to claim it’s performance-enhancing drugs.

Well hopefully this situation has been resolved for now and we can back to focusing on the athletes.

Incidently, better news in the pool for Canadians: Mike Brown qualified for the 200-metre breaststroke in convincing fashion. Stay tuned, this could be Canada’s first medal in the pool this week.

IT BEGINS…AND THE OLYMPICS

Greetings,

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.