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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Olympic Fever

Okay - a confession first - I've never been a big follower of the Olympics. I'm not a sport-cynic, or a they-aren't-amateurs purist... or even simply appalled at the wealth and control of the self-appointing International Olympic Committee (although it is appalling). I just never got into the games much.

I did get excited when Vancouver (near here) got the 2010 Winter Games, because I've known for some decades that my only shot at an Olympic medal would be in curling - and this might be my chance. I was a high school champion and it's the only Olympic sport I can think of that usually includes chatting, drinking between games, and welcomes overweight middle-aged athletes. And when they shout to their team mates, they scream "HARD! ! HURRY HARD!! HAAARDERRRR!" Which is just plain funny.

I'll probably catch some of it on TV, and I do love to watch ski jumping (flying!) and the biathlon (skiing AND shooting). But some of the things that gall me about these games include:

- Corporate sponsorships are so huge that they have branded everything. When the torch celebration, blew through Nelson - the COKE RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) stage and sound system and free light-up COKE drinks were delightfully global spirited. The Vancouver Library was ordered to cover up logos of non-sponsors on any plaques, donated items or other publicly visible places. No PEPSI donated computers allowed! Not in Olympic City. Oh yes, and COKE flew a bunch of staff up to Canada from Atlanta - so they could get turns running the torch in BC.

- Our provincial and federal governments are spending about $6 billion on the games (yes, the B-word). That's at a time when schools are closing, the arts have been cut by 40% in BC, health care needs an injection... and homelessness is on the rise. In fact, school sports have been cut.

- Security for the athletes, IOC gang, politicians, and corporate sponsors is huge. Our bill will be $900 million. There are several thousand Canadian troops in town supporting the RCMP, Vancouver police and no doubt, our little spy service, called CSIS.

- Tickets for the "people's games" are a little on the dear side. The remaining seats for events like, say a Belarus - Belgian hockey game might go for as little as $75 to $400 a seat. The gold medal game has tickets, on the official site last week, that top out at $50,000 a pair. (Is he making this stuff up? No, but to be fair, if any ordinary good tickets were available, they were only about $750 each.)

All this to say that many athletes are amazing and worth seeing; the opening ceremonies will be spectacular (even if the orchestra is 'lip-synching' the instruments to recorded music); and the feeling of pride in winning will be palpable. I'm personally pulling for Ghana's one man Olympic team.

But there are all those other things that sour it for me.

More bread, less circuses please.

Better Vancouver than Toronto! ;)

Should I be watching for you in the curling competition?
Beth - I decided to wait for 2014 :)
i get a little bit uncomfortable with all the nationalism that goes with the games- how many medals america or china or russia or austria wins- rather than cheering the athletes themselves.
but, i suppose, ultimately sports are a good thing, and the games foster understanding and compassion between nations. right?
i hope vancouver is able to recoup the cost of hosting the olympics through tourism, better infrastructure and job creation.
maybe they can use some of that revenue to reopen some of those schools that are closing...
You're a very good person Seraphine. I hope you are right and I also hope the games are inspiring, in spite of my light, but serious criticisms.

The recouping of money is unlikely by the way, but I think the world community will get a chance to see how beautiful Vancouver and area are...and perhaps that will generate positive things, or at least more visitors.
I've often thought they should just build two permanent Olympic venues - say Antarctica for the winter games and the Gobi Desert for the summer ones. The whole thing has become so crazy and out of balance it's really not worth encouraging any of them.
Good idea Susan! Except for the melting ice in the Antarctic site...but it should be good for a few more games.
i like the idea of some permanent venues. it makes better sense from a cost standpoint.
and there is no reason there can't be multiple venues- i mean, why do skiing and ice skating have to share the same venue? or basketball and long distance running?
that's a great idea susan.
I can't hardly stand to listen to US announcers. They are so egotistical... as country athletes enter the arena for opening ceremonies, they will say things like "they have never won any medals"... it makes me hope they kick ass & win big.
It's nice to just see athletes have their peak moments & it is a huge deal just to make it there.
But hey, my dear neighbors to the north....
you had better start summoning the snow gods...... it's not looking good re necessary supply for the white stuff.
I'm with Beth, I'd like to see you in the curling competition. When my older daughters we part of a high school youth group, they went to the Olympics and guess what one event the group was able to get tickets to see? Yes, that would be curling. Someone bought all the kids in the group t-shirts that said, "What the heck is curling?" to wear, which they did. Anyway . . . I love how you look at all the sides of something and focus on the bright ones.

Gary - a curling champion! Sounds as if you would be also good at ball sports too!

Now we have business people sponsoring sports events and comparing themselves with overpaid sportspeople and stating their worth every penny of their meager 10 million dollar salary package which is enough to sustain 34,000 Malawians per year. I like watching sports and I think community sport is generally a very good thing. But at the elite level it requires total commitment over everything and everyone else – to be totally engaged in self, combined with a lot of money. At the risk of offending some great sportspeople I think the adulation and self absorption is often an unhealthy mental state for many in the absence of wise mentoring.
I think far too much money is present at the elite levels in comparison to the community level where more could be done. The Olympics epitomize the disparity in funding which receives large amounts of government money disproportionate to other cultural and humanitarian issues you have highlighted. In most counties gold medals are resresantive of the amount of money invested in athletes which is the driver to success quite apart from the additional venue cost.

Best wishes
Amazingly well written synopsis - thank you for that!
Just came back from the Caribbean, wish I have had more money and time to make it to Haiti and help out. Puerto Rico is sooo close. You know, there is, or has to be, a long time of reconstruction. It might take a decade or more unfortunately.
Maybe I will get a chance in the years to come. Does Amnesty International work there?
As for the Winter-Olympics, have a blast and spend the dow - bake your bread on the side...
Thanks again all.

Seraphine - fixed venues would eliminate the huge build up and bidding war that feeds the IOC egos and pockets though... I know! I sound the cynic, but it's just logic.

Fran - you're right, one of the ski event venues is basically snowless. They're going to lay down hay and cover it with artificial and transported snow. Maybe it should be the Climate Change Olympics?

Cheri - funny story! Did they enjoy it in the end?

Lindsay - very good points and I agree that even a modest investment in sports and recreation at the community level has real payoffs.
I'm STOKED! I love the Olympics!
I think all the curling champions live in Scotland....
the London games being prepared for now are always announcing how over budget they are, this in an economic slump...as schools close and other things go without funding....
but we are proud of those curlers!!

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