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TUESDAY, MARCH 26, 2019
According to one reporter, the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games are threatening to become the worst in Olympic history. Others have called them the "glitch games". Whether or not these are the worst Olympic games ever (and how could one judge?), I'm fairly certain that the world would be better off without the Olympics. Personally, I wouldn't miss them that much.

That said, the world could do without a lot of other wastes of time, money, resources and people-power. What if (and this is a big "if") the world decided to give priority to things like poverty, famine, pollution, disease and international conflict resolution? The very question invites cynical responses of the Yeah-but-that-ain't-ever-gonna-happen variety. So we shrug our shoulders. Go, Canada, go.

These may not be the worst Olympics ever (no terrorist hostage-takings thus far) but they have provided more tabloid and blogger fodder than the IOC and VANOC would like. The now-familiar list includes:

-The death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, which the British press and (of all people) David Letterman have used to criticize Canada's "Own the Podium" program and the IOC's insensitive hypocrisy respectively.

-Two reroutings of the torch run through East Vancouver.

-Spoilsport protesters.

-A worst-possible-moment equipment malfunction at the opening ceremonies (and Gretzky didn't exactly look excited sniffling in the rain for the last leg of the torch run).

-The outdoor Olympic Flame blocked by an ugly fence.

-The warmest winter in nearly a century causing event delays and the refund of thousands of tickets for standing-room viewing (now deemed "unsafe").

-Multiple ice-resurfacer breakdowns, causing more event delays.

-19 people injured after a barricade was broken during an Alexisonfire concert, which was then cancelled.

And just off the radar, a strike of 300 airport restaurant workers during one of the busiest periods in YVR's history.

Of course, Olympic apologists have dimissed the critics, assuring us that the games have been well organized, are a self-evident triumph, and, in any case, that they could not have foreseen much less prevented the ongoing troubles. My question is, How much worse does it have to get before we just say, "Okay, this is starting to look like a bad joke. No more Olympics."?

That question, in part, is what motivated the ironically self-proclaimed "Olympic Welcoming Committee" protest on the day of the games' opening. Even by then, with massive cost overruns and the lowering of the projected local economic benefit, the Vancouver Olympics were beginning to look less fantastic and more farcical with each passing day. And since they began we've become the laughing stock of the world: 'Hey, Canada. What happened to all your snow? Can't you even keep an ice rink in working order? We thought that was what you were good at!'

I attended the Friday protest and was happy that it turned out peaceful. The police, it seems, have been instructed to keep their cool, even when getting spit on by so-called anarchists. The juvenile vandalism that took place Saturday morning wasn't hard to predict. After the somewhat anti-climactic march on Friday night, I assumed some of the balaclava-clad Black Bloc would vent their frustration on private property elsewhere (more like bloc-heads).

One refreshing note is that the window-smashing and newspaper box-wielding "anarchists" were seen for what they are - delusionally romantic idiots - while the genuine and peaceful protesters retained their dignity in the public eye. All too often the "criminal" or "fringe" elements in a protest are taken as representative of the whole movement. I'd like to think that this is a distinction that the public will keep in mind, so that they continue to take the genuine protests seriously.

And hopefully the memory of the protests will endure. As I told a reporter from The Tyee at Friday's march, hosting the Olympics in Vancouver is especially tacky and vulgar, given its failure to address its own poverty and homelessness. I'm hoping that more than a few unsuspecting tourists will accidentally wander into the Downtown Eastside and catch a glimpse of the not-so-worldclass part of the city, and report back.

But maybe we don't need innocent tourists stumbling on to Main and Hastings to get the word out. On February 4 The New York Times reported on Vancouver's poverty and drug-abuse problems, and the next day Mayor Gregor Robertson responded to that and other negative stories in the world press in a Tyee interview.

Writing back in 1994, and anticipating some of the criticisms of the current games (corporate corruption), as well as less frequently discussed issues (such as the innappropriate professionalization of what's supposed to be an "amateur" event), Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul offered his own definition of "Olympic Ideal", which is worth quoting in full. Here it is:

The Greek games began in 776 BC as a competition among amateur athletes from the different city-states. The purpose was to bring the citizens of the rival cities together in an apolitical gathering, which would reduce squabbling and develop and larger sense of community.

The rising merchant class in those cities subsequently inverted their purpose by introducing the idea of city rivalry into the games. The city-states then began subsidizing their athletes indirectly and often invisibly. The amateur athletes were soon living a parody of amateurism. They had careers and future income riding on the competition. Winners became heroes, that is to say political heroes. They were fed at the cost of the state for the rest of their lives.

Subtle corruption gradually turned into rank dishonesty. Athletes were eventually bribed to lose. In AD 394 the games were abolished because they had become a parody of the amateur idea, a focus of corruption and a source of political rivalry.

The Olympic Games were re-established in 1896 as a competition among amateur athletes. One of the purposes was to bring citizens of rival countries together in an apolitical gathering. What the Greeks managed to do in 1,170 years, we have done in less than 100.


Thank goodness for Canadian philosohy. Go, Canada, go.


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