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The Olympics

Tonight, the ancient games begin again in Vancouver – also known as the least wintery city in Canada. What were they thinking???!

In the old days – in Greece, the Games were used as an occasion for nation states to stop warring with one another long enough to rest their soldiers for the next military campaign. Since I haven’t read anything lately about the Taliban or NATO forces putting down their arms and IEDs for the duration of the Games, I’m thinking that the old rationale no longer applies.

So, of what value are the Games? Is there a broad and worthy social purpose behind them? Do they provide social cohesion and sense of purpose… especially needed in these strange economic times?

Or are they simply a massive waste of money and effort that says more about the excesses of the modern world than about peace and fair play?

Sports have often been used as a tool for nationalists to sir up patriotic fervour – and perhaps distract the populace from the real troubles that a state may be experiencing. It’s a lot easier to see the citizenry on an unpopular idea if the masses are proud of their flag.

And, of course, the Olympiad of the Third Reich showed us that sport and the Olympics can be used for purely evil intents.

Am I for this spectacle of sound and fury or do I think that this all signifies nothing?

Not long ago, I was firmly on the pro-Games side of the line. After all, nationalism spurred on by the accomplishments of it’s elite athletes in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It can spur excellence and innovation. Plus, I do enjoy watching the Games and, like many Canadians and yell at the TV when one of my fellow Canucks is competing. Hey, I like sports of all types and I don’t apologise for it.

But I have changed my thinking a little.

What bugs me is the sheer massiveness of the Games in their current state. Something like $3 billion has been spent on thus edition.

3 billion.

And I can’t help but wonder what else that money could have been used for in a social purpose kind of way.

The Squid-dude listed some of the ways to spend this moolah in a post about a month ago:

  1. The government could bail out the pensions of all the people horned by the collapse of Nortel.  If bailing out the auto-workers is a good use of billions of taxpayer dollars, surely bailing out a few thousand computer geeks must be no big deal.  What is so special about the auto industry that they get cut so much slack while high tech gets told to suck on it?  This would probably cost less than $3 billion and benefit both the economy and thousands of people for the rest of their lives.
  2. A cheque for $100 could be issued to every man, woman, and child living in Canada.  This would benefit every person in Canada and the economy as a whole.  It would benefit athletes too, much more than any Olympic competition would as they could put the money toward equipment and training.  It might be enough to get some kids into a sports program that their families can’t afford right now.  Or it might just be blown on beer and pizza, but that helps the economy.
  3. An extra $3 billion could have been poured into an invested fund from which athletic programs in Canada could draw money instead of begging from the government for dribs and drabs.  This would also have cost less than the cost of the Olympics and would have the benefit of improving the quality of our athletes.
  4. It costs much less than $1 billion to have an election so that Canadians can get the government they seem to want and hush their bitching for a few weeks.  In theory, that would benefit everyone.
  5. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen could have a massive boost with $3 billion added to the defence budget.  We could solidify our arctic sovereignty.
  6. Imagine $3 billion being put toward research and development of clean energy.
  7. This is a back-of-the-napkin calculation, but I think that $3 billion would allow the government to replace every car and truck over the age of 5 or 7 years for every person who has one in Canada.  This would boost the auto industry, boost the economy, and clean up the air.  Every junker could be taken off the road.
  8. $3 billion could improve the quality of post secondary education at every college and university in Canada.
  9. $3 billion cold be invested in research and development generally, helping restore our place as a world leader in this area.
  10. We could use the money to annex the Turks and Caicos, allowing us a warm, sunny spot to go to without having to be subjected to US air security/paranoia.  $3 billion will keep the T&C operating for a long, long time.
  11. $3 billion could probably settle every outstanding native land claim, or cut the list down significantly.
  12. For less than $3 billion, every family in Canada could be given a decent laptop and high speed internet access.

So what do I propose happen to this travesty that has been driven by greed, excess and hyper-nationalism- not to mention the self-serving aims of that most elite of elitist societies, the IOC.

I’d like to see the Games continue, but not in it’s present form. So, in the Olympic spirit of giving, this is what I suggest should happen to bring the Games back to a place where peace and fair play is the goal.

And I won’t even ask for a seat on the IOC if any of them are used.

1) Get rid if the IOC. The UN is the only body I can think of that could coordinate a buyout of the trademarks etc to allow the Games to continue in some form. The IOC is a medieval and secretive society that simply must be replaced by one that is more transparent, less corrupt and more representative of the world as a whole.

2) Impose a strict budget ceiling on proposals and total expenditures. Hosting countries should not be chosen on the basis of how much money they can throw at the project; but rather their commitment to peace, fair play, democracy and human rights.

3) Take the pros out of the Games. Yes, I enjoy watching Canada’s best hockey players lay a good whoopin’ on the Yanks and the Ruskies as much as the next guy. But those dudes who make a gazillon bucks a year shouldn’t be there. They just shouldn’t.

What other solutions could make the Games a more sane event rather than the circus it has become?



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  1. Oh, the other thing that irks me about the olympics is that our politicos seem to think it’s so important that they have to take time off work while it’s happening.

    1. trashee says:

      Photo op, man. Photo op.

  2. The problem is that while we have a concept of amateurism, many countries don’t. China is not going to send athletes we’d call amateurs. Neither is Russia. Both those countries had been sending professionals for decades, so when we started doing it, it just levelled the playing field.

    The total cost is well over 3 billion, but the impression I get is that only 3ish billion is federal money. The rest is coming from BC tax payers and Vancouver regional tax payers. Those governments blowing their money is an issue for bloggers in BC and Vancouver in particular 🙂 I think it’s incredibly wasteful, but it’s not really my problem, only the federal part is. I think it’s interesting that they didn’t learn from Montreal 1976 though.

    The real question is… if Canada wins 50 gold or 0 gold, what does it matter to the important issues facing Canada today?

  3. Ken says:

    Yes, Dave, that is the amateurism I want. I want the guy who won the right to compete to have a chance to get sent to the Olympics, not some professional athlete who already gets paid millions to do the same old thing.

    I don’t have an issue with public funds being used in that way. That’s why I’m saying if it were amateur athletes like your uncle, then I would make it possible for him to go. Not some pro.

  4. XUP says:

    I think the total cost is closer to $10 Billion at the moment, though they’re not factoring in a lot of the big, infrastructure stuff because they say it would have had to be done some time anyway and/or this stuff can still be used later on. (Like all the CCTV cameras on every square foot of the city??) That $3 Billion is just straight up Olympics only stuff that they can’t possibly claim any other use for — security for one which is eating up a huge chunk of that and all those cruise ships they’re parking in the bay to house all the “extras”.

    In principle I like the idea of athlete competing internationally, but the Olympics are more of a competition of event organizers than athletics. So, I propose we build a politically neutral Olympic Island somewhere. All the nations pitch in some cash and it’s a permanent location. It needs to be a place that’s actually cold enough for snow in winter and warm enough in summer for summer games. The island is only so big, so that the event can never expand to outrageous proportions. It will also restrict a whole bunch of other stuff, like too much media/politicos/hangers-on. Security would be much simpler because most of it’s built-in. Countries can take turns hosting the opening ceremonies or something so everyone gets a bit of a chance to showcase their culture.

    Anyway, right now I’m getting quite nauseated at all the schmaltzy tv, radio and print ads. If I hear Donald Sutherland burbling about BELIEVING one more time, I’m going to hurl

  5. dave1949 says:

    A thousand years ago an uncle of mine won the right to represent Britain at the Los Angeles Olympics. only problem he had was he lived in Scotland and had to pay his own way to the ship in England after which he would be taken care of by the Olympic association.
    He couldn’t afford this so had to pass up the chance. Is that the sort of amateurism you want.
    Amateurism is not a traditional Olympic factor the ancients were pro athletes and were rewarded handsomely for winning.
    Amatuerism was a way for the elite of Europe and America to ensure that unseemly types like my uncle, a mechanic at the time, didn’t get to mingle too closely with the right sort of people who then and now still run the show.
    As for what is really wrong with the games try this. There are about 2500 athletes and 10,000 media. I don;t know about you but 4 reporters for every actor seems a tiny bit over the top.

  6. Ken says:

    The biggest change I’d like to see is what you mentioned in #3. Professional athletes have no place in the Olympics at all. I’d probably be okay with the government kicking in public funds to support a group of 100% amateur athletes, but when you see hockey players making millions each year getting the benefit of those taxpayer dollars… It pisses me off to no end.

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