8.17.2008

canadian hand-wringing at its worst

Although I'm not watching the Olympics, it's impossible to miss all the hand-wringing about Team Canada not winning gold medals.

Apparently a female wrestler and the men's eight crew have ended this great national shame. But in the preceding week, the op-eds and letters were everywhere. I can only imagine what talk-radio was like. I saw the Canadian athletes' performance described as a "debacle," "a disaster" and "a national embarrassment". I saw several demands for an official inquiry.

Is there nothing Canadians can't beat themselves up over?

As I understand it, Canada spends quite a bit of money identifying and supporting elite athletes and coaches. You can lay the ground work, you can prepare, you can give support so athletes can work as hard as possible. Canada does all that.

But you can't control the outcome. Short of bribery, you can't actually buy a championship. (Just ask a Yankees fan.) If you don't invest in a team, chances are they won't see the podium. But no amount of investment will guarantee you a medal. It's a big world out there. On that particular day, there just might be more than three people in the world faster, stronger, and better than your guy.

Personally, I'd like to see more funds invested in grassroots sport, which benefit more people, than sports at the elite level, which benefit the many only as spectators. But if elite sports is the national priority, at least people should grasp what we're spending our tax dollars on. It's as if the complainers don't understand how sport works.

26 comments:

Kate said...

I was discussing this with my husband just yesterday. I am PROUD to live in a country that doesn't spend millions and millions of dollars trying to shave two-tenths of a second off a swim time to win the gold. I am all for physical fitness but I'm not sure I see the point behind having a handful of super-elite athletes in each country.

(And, if I had to chose between supporting said super-elite athletes and funding health care, I'd pick healthcare in a heartbeat. I know it doesn't actually come down to a clean either/or like that, budget-wise, but I like that we as a country are erring toward the side of heath care.)

john said...

The Olympics lost my respect years ago, when they started parachuting professionals into certain sports. I think it started because the Americans weren't doing as well in basketball as they thought they should. It's now spread to hockey and tennis. So much for the ideals of amateur sport!

myempireofdirt said...

I blame the Australians. If they weren't punching above their weight, it would be easier to focus on our near-perfect 10-to-1 ratio with the Americans.

As I write this, the USA has 65 and Canada has 7, which fits pretty well with our respective populations.

It does hurt the national ego to fall behind Romania on just about any list, though.

L-girl said...

I am PROUD to live in a country that doesn't spend millions and millions of dollars trying to shave two-tenths of a second off a swim time to win the gold.

I agree with you, Kate, however...
you do live in a country that does that.

Canada does put a lot of money into elite athlete training. Not swimming, necessarily, but skiing, skating, curling and hockey. And a good bit of money goes into summer sports, too.

L-girl said...

The Olympics lost my respect years ago, when they started parachuting professionals into certain sports. I think it started because the Americans weren't doing as well in basketball as they thought they should. It's now spread to hockey and tennis. So much for the ideals of amateur sport!

I have lost all respect for the IOC, for sure. But the movement of professionals into the Olympics has been happening gradually for a long time. It actually didn't start with the US.

Also, things change. When the modern Olympics started, athletes all held full-time jobs and trained around them. That was what amateur sport meant.

Now Olympic athletes train full-time, whether with government subsidies or private sponsorship. So does that make them professionals or amateurs? Things change.

L-girl said...

Please folks! No medal counts here! Thank you.

Kim_in_TO said...

We don't spend as much money as a lot of countries on funding of athletes. A lot of them have training, living, and travel expenses paid, not to mention the millions of dollars put into top-notch training facilities. I am happy that we don't pay athletes for medals won. But if we want more medals, we need to get more serious about more funding.

The question is, why do we want more medals? So we can puff out our chests for a couple of days? A medal will benefit the athlete in terms of sponsorship deals, but what other impact is there? I'm not sure why now, but I've suddenly started to really question this. Why am I proud that someone from my city, province, or country won a medal? Does it make us all better than anyone else? Does it help anyone to foster feelings of superiority based on nationality? All I see is that it gives a nation momentary bragging rights - which is something that I find pretty obnoxious.

L-girl said...

We don't spend as much money as a lot of countries on funding of athletes.

That's true, but Canada also spends a lot more than many countries. Not the most, but far from the least.

But if we want more medals, we need to get more serious about more funding.

I think the funding is already pretty high.

The question is, why do we want more medals? . . . I'm not sure why now, but I've suddenly started to really question this.

Yeah, I've always questioned it, probably because I come from a country that fancies itself as having bragging rights on the whole world. The nationalism aspect of the Olympics is loathesome to me. Rah rah, I live in the same country as this person does, so I am special by association.

James said...

Is there nothing Canadians can't beat themselves up over?

Of course not. Beating ourselves up over things ranks up there with Hockey and Curling. :)

L-girl said...

Of course not. Beating ourselves up over things ranks up there with Hockey and Curling. :)

Very true. :)

JakeNCC said...

Do you not find a disconnect in boycotting the Olympics and in turn our Canadian athletes ( who are in the vast majority amateur ) and your fervent support of MLB? If there is any organization in the sporting world that is more corrupt than the Olympics it would surely be Baseball which is owned and operated by corparate America and full of overpaid, spoiled and in many cases cheating athletes. I'm having a hard time understanding the the boycott of one and the embrace of the other.

L-girl said...

Do you not find a disconnect in boycotting the Olympics and in turn our Canadian athletes ( who are in the vast majority amateur ) and your fervent support of MLB?

No, I do not.

First, I am not boycotting the Olympics because of corruption. I am boycotting it because of the extreme anti-human actions of the Chinese government. You can read about that in the essay that I linked to in the post.

It sounds like you may have read the comments to this post without reading the actual link in the post.

Baseball which is owned and operated by corparate America

That is true, but I'm not boycotting the Olympics because of corporate America. I am highly critical of MLB as an institution, and especially of the owners.

Second, almost everything is owned by this and full of overpaid, spoiled and in many cases cheating athletes.

I disagree with this characterization. When working for billionaires, it is appropriate to be a millionaire, especially when your talent and work is the very heart of the game, and your working life is by definition very short.

I see no evidence that MLB players are any more spoiled than anyone else in our society. I like most players, dislike some, love others. I certainly have no overall gripe against professional baseball players. Nor against Canadian Olympic athletes, for that matter.

As for cheating, it's rampant in all human pursuits. I don't think it's more so in baseball than, say, on Wall Street or in high school tests.

But again, my personal choice of not watching the Olympics has nothing to do with how much money people make or whether or not they cheat.

I'm having a hard time understanding the the boycott of one and the embrace of the other.

Perhaps that's because you didn't read my reasons before you left your criticism.

Jen said...

I'd like to see more funds invested in grassroots sport, which benefit more people, than sports at the elite level

I know from contacts in the fencing world that every olympic year there is a great influx of kids to the club that fall. They see it on TV think its cool, and for boys, the starting age (10ish) is perfect for matching with the stage where hockey turns from fun to work and size starts to matter. Size matters in fencing too, but in different ways for different weapons and not usually until your later teens. Personally, anything that raises awareness for Canadians that there are sports beyond hockey is a bonus to me.

Also, having elite athletes training at your club (as many of the smaller sports like fencing, rowing, paddling, swim clubs, skiing, even curling, etc) do inspires every one in the club and at local competitions. That's why it's such a loss when someone like Sherraine Schalm has to go to Europe to train.

if I had to chose between supporting said super-elite athletes and funding health care, I'd pick healthcare in a heartbeat

Sport happens on a continuum and it doesn't take much (e.g.: a torn muscle) for one of the super-elite to be the next great coach instead. Because of the draw of elite athletes to sport like I stated before, I'd argue that funding sport more at all levels including elite is funding health care (my plug for health promotion). Canadians think we're a sporting nation, but really we're a sport watching nation. Anything that gets people moving and thinking about health is funding health care.

I blame the Australians. If they weren't punching above their weight...
They punch above their weight because they are a sporting nation. Like Britain, sport is integrated into the school system and community to a far greater degree (at least among the working and middle classes) than in Canada. (I have anecdotal and experiential egs. for that).

Funding elite sports to the point where elite athletes can train and compete locally is vital to grassroots development and worth our investment

L-girl said...

Thanks for that, Jen. I know it's not either/or. But I think there's a real limit on how much watching elite athletes really moves people to be more physically active, or how much a visit from an elite athlete makes a lasting impact, beyond the celebrity factor.

Because I interview and write about people who do sports at the grassroots level, I'm aware of how economics is a constant barrier - and how much subsidies would help.

Training an elite hockey team is not a bad goal, but affordable ice time all over Canada would get more kids playing.

Jen said...

there's a real limit on how much watching elite athletes really moves people to be more physically active or how much a visit from an elite athlete makes a lasting impact

You're right, watching it on TV only gets them in the door/stopping at your demo at the mall/looking up your website. IF however your club is then able to say "Our club is home to 3 athletes on the jr national team and 2 on the national team" then you've really got their attention and quite likely their membership. Many national athletes (in sports OTHER than hockey)train at local clubs, they don't just visit.

Because I interview and write about people who do sports at the grassroots level, I'm aware of how economics is a constant barrier - and how much subsidies would help.

Oy, don't get me started either. My background includes years in smoky bingo halls for the fencing club and various school sports.

Training an elite hockey team is not a bad goal, but affordable ice time all over Canada would get more kids playing

I don't agree that more ice time would get kids playing. Hockey is a ridiculously expensive sport regardless of the availability of ice time--you still need all the gear for the grassroots leagues (and the availability for parental volunteering--a major economic barrier).

Maybe I'm biased, but as I pointed out before I prefer initiatives that got kids off of the hockey train. Cdn sport would be far better off with fewer people playing mediocre hockey. Perhaps if kids tried a wider variety of sports we'd have a better pool of talented people to draw from for other sports.

My point is that we need to get more kids playing anything. There are heaps of sports that unlike hockey (and fencing) aren't nearly as expensive. Continuing to have a well integrated system at all levels (i.e.: by keeping your elite players at the local clubs) is, IMO the only way to grow sport in Canada. (A little less to hockey would help too).

L-girl said...

Honestly, I don't know anything about the hockey train or what having a child play hockey entails. I only used that as an example, because I've spoken to so many parents who lament the high cost of rink time. These are parents of kids with disabilities, so their costs tend to be higher, and their need for sport may be greater.

Most kids like to play sports that they see being played, so hockey, soccer, and other big (and televised) sports are going to have more of an attraction. But certainly being exposed to a wider range of activities would be very beneficial. Nobody is going to take up fencing or racquetball or whatever unless they see it and try it.

Integrated training is definitely very beneficial, as you say. I didn't realize what you meant in your first comment (or didn't read carefully enough, sorry). Certainly investing in quality local facilities would benefit everyone, as opposed to the elite-only training facilities.

JakeNCC said...

I went back and reread you reasoning and I can't say I don't agree to a great extinct but I just cannot boycott our Canadian athletes. They've worked too hard. And while I agree with everything you say about China I also see blood on American hands throughout the world. No one is harder on corporate America than you and knows more about the damage they do around the world yet you give them a pass when it comes to their ownership of MLB.

L-girl said...

I just cannot boycott our Canadian athletes.

And I'm not asking you to. I'm doing what is right for me, and you should do what's right for you.

I don't care about nationalism, I don't feel connected to Canadian athletes any more than I feel connected to athletes from Argentina or New Zealand.

And while I agree with everything you say about China I also see blood on American hands throughout the world.

Me too! I'd definitely be boycotting the Olympics if they were in Atlanta or Los Angeles.

No one is harder on corporate America than you and knows more about the damage they do around the world yet you give them a pass when it comes to their ownership of MLB.

Actually, I don't, but you're confusing two completely separate issues. I am highly critical of MLB. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the Olympics.

I would also argue with the idea that no one is harder on corporate America than me! I'm all for good corporate citizenship, and I'm not against capitalism in all forms.

But regardless of that, my love of baseball has nothing to do with the Olympics being in Beijing, or my decision not to watch.

Thanks for coming back and reading further.

JakeNCC said...

extent*, sorry

JakeNCC said...

Thanks for your response. I enjoy other's opinions and their reasoning behind them. It helps me shape my opinions. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately my opinions on many things shift and change although I hope my underlying values of social justice and peace never do!

L-girl said...

JakeNCC, your last comment sounds very familiar. I wonder if perhaps you post here under a different name. Or names.

redsock said...

I just cannot boycott our Canadian athletes. They've worked too hard.

I think it's safe to assume that the athletes from every country train pretty hard.

P.S.: I'm not watching because I simply do not care. But I don't see that as a boycott or an insult to the athletes.

redsock said...

JakeNCC, your last comment sounds very familiar. I wonder if perhaps you post here under a different name. Or names.

Indeed. Q: Does this blog make you feel warm and fuzzy?

JakeNCC said...

???? I think I'm missing an inside joke.

redsock said...

Send L an email. Maybe she'll explain.

CrazyIvan said...

Its not often I comment on blogs, but I can understand where you are coming from. I live in Australia and it is even worse over here.

We seem to have an idea that as part of our national identity, that we have to have the best sporting teams all the time and that expectation never wavers. Unfortunately we only get there half the time.