Editorial Comment

Olympics Post Mortem

    As the 2014 Sochi Olympics come to an end, it is appropriate to do a post-mortem on the value of the spectacle. It is difficult to examine the games objectively while we are leaping up and down in jubilation after taking the four most important medals to the psyche of our Nordic nation. Those precious medals are, of course, gold in hockey and curling for both our men’s and women’s teams. (I am only listing them in case a foreigner is reading this piece as every real Canadian already knows which ones were meant.)
    Before we begin the autopsy, however, I think it only fair for me to state that, like a number of Canadians I have talked to, I do not believe in the Olympic movement. I do not even recognize it as a movement but view it simply as a large, lavish sports entertainment event, of which fiscally responsible governments should want no part. 
    Take, for example, the “Own the Podium” program funded by our tax dollars. This federal initiative has a stated goal , according to its website, (www.ownthepodium.org) “To be a world leader in high performance sport at the Olympic and Paralympic Games”. This lofty, elitist ideal costs the federal coffers $62 million annually, or just over $280,000 per athlete sent to Sochi. This is in addition to considerable financial support given by a number of provincial governments including our own. This money doesn’t go directly to the athletes of course, other than the cash prizes they receive for winning Olympic events (Twenty grand for gold, fifteen for silver and ten for bronze). That money also goes towards their training, coaches, venues and other support. 
    The amount Alberta kicks into Canada’s Olympic program averages out at approximately $10 million per year which even eclipses the premier’s travel budget. The money is used to maintain the Olympic-standard facilities in this province that athletes from across Canada, access to hone their skills. It is perhaps, thanks to this commitment by our provincial government that Alberta sent the second highest number of athletes to Sochi; an impressive 56, compared to Quebec with twice the population who sent 43. Ontario, at three times the number of people as us sent the most athletes, of course with a contingent of 64. (The other provinces and territories contributed athletes as follows: BC 27, SK 14, MB 10, NWT and NS at 2 and one each from NL,PI and YH. None from Nunavut.) 
    Albertans in favour of this level of financial support likely are proud of these figures and the fact that, for our population, we punch above our weight class. However, for those that see the Games as a big money scam; they will, no doubt, consider the expenditure as more wastefulness and over-spending. Worse, they realize the folly of it will most likely continue, whoever the premier is and would likely continue under any other party’s leadership, (as if we will ever get another party in Alberta again). No one ever seems to do polling to see if taxpayers actully agree to the expenditure.
        The reason many of my fellow Albertans are happy to turn a blind eye to their taxes being used to finance a sports event is simple. It feels good. We have been inculcated to respond emotionally to such images such as our national flag, along with ideals of “country”, “patriotism” and “achievement”. These representatives of our nation become our modern day champions, whose victory or defeat makes no less of an impact than if it had been a whole army, a la David and Goliath. We even invent Goliaths to defeat; the nasty Russians we’ve loved to hate since ’72, the USA women hockey players who we ridiculed for being poor sports to such an extent, we became even worse sports. And let’s not forget, of course, our biggest Goliath we had to defeat; The Jamaican Bobsled Team.
    Okay, maybe not the last one but it is telling, perhaps, that it was an Alberta company that came to the aid of the Jamaicans and sponsored their trip to Sochi. If not for Vern Janvier, of the Aboriginal oilfield  company, CP Services, it is possible that the JBT would never have made it to Sochi. This would have been a tragedy, no doubt, in light of the Washington Post story detailing how the JBT were the life of the party at the Athletes Village. Heaven knows we’d hate to deny the other Olympians their comic relief.
    Couldn’t that money from wealthy Mr. Janvier, the Chippewa-Dene First Nation chief have found more worthy beneficiaries closer to home? Granted he is reportedly generous within his own community and elsewhere but  It reminds me of when a Calmar school principal took a number of students to Belize to build a playground for the kids there. At the same time, the kids at New Humble School, just 7 miles north of Calmar, were without a playground for years after vandals destroyed their old one. Just what lesson was being taught?
    The $62 million we spend annually and the $4.8 Billion (BILLION!) we spent to make the Vancouver Olympics a reality four years ago, could also have been used to benefit all Canadians in real substantive ways; not just the ‘feel good’ experience we received. It’s not like we don’t have important projects shelved due to other pressing priorities.
    There is some good that comes from the Olympics, obviously. It is arguable that the games bring countries together more than the United Nations does. Whether this is worth the untold billions in taxes spent world-wide on these bi-annual extravaganzas and the inevitable displacement of the underprivileged routinely uprooted for venue placement by host countries, including us, is a matter of opinion. 
    Being in favour of the Olympics is like being in favour of government money going to other sports entertainments like the NHL. It’s just wrong.

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