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?

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