a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The tainted Olympics

Nobody wants to interfere with Canada's pride at finally breaking the curse of not winning an Olympic gold medal on Canadian soil. But there is a major communications problem brewing with the Vancouver Olympics. We are being savaged by the international media.

Sports columnist Martin Samuel of Britain's Daily Mail has called us cheaters and claimed Canada's so-called "Own The Podium" agenda is a perversion of the Olympic ideal.

He also claims Canada's determination to win medal or Own The Podium had something to do with the tragic death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili of the Republic of Georgia just hours before Friday's opening ceremonies.

How is this for nasty commentary?

"Canada wanted to Own The Podium at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. This morning they can put their maple leaf stamp on something more instantly tangible: the nondescript little box carrying the lifeless body of Nodar Kumaritashvili back to his home in Bakuriani , Georgia.

"Made in Canada, it should say. Made by the perversion of the Olympic movement for national gain; made by a culture of worthless aggrandisement and pride."

In his column, Samuel says the slide track at Whistler is unsafe for any competitor and that Canadian athletes have had far more practice time on it than international competitors. He is not clear how the imbalance in practice time was responsible for the death of the young and inexperienced Georgian luger.

Canadian athletes likely would have been aware of the track's faster curves if they began doing practice runs on it months ago instead of just weeks ago. However, Samuel doesn't make the connection very well.

But he may have a point about safety. Kumaritashvili was killed after striking a metal pole after leaving the track in excess of 140 kilometres an hour. As Samuel notes, any luge course that allows a contestant to lose control and go flying off it is by design unsafe.

An Australian athlete complained competitors on the track were being used as "crash test dummies." Even the New York Times has concluded "safety took a back seat to patriotism".

On the day of the fatal crash and the day before, there were three crashes in practice runs by athletes. A Romanian competitor was knocked unconscious. Yet Vancouver Olympic organizers (VANOC) were quick to attribute the fatal accident to athlete error.

This incident will likely haunt Canada for some time.

Other British media, such as the Guardian, criticize Canada for limiting international competitors' access to facilities during practice. Others find Canada'a new obsession with winning just plain irritating.

In the British Times, sports writer Simon Barnes defended Canada from blame for the tragedy. But he had issues with Own The Podium.

" Their highly unpleasant Own The Podium program, in which they seek to exploit home advantage to the last nanosecond, has alienated the world they are supposed to play host to,"
he wrote.

"Home athletes always have an advantage: getting ugly about it is neither necessary nor appropriate."

When complaints first surfaced that Canada was limiting international competitors' access to facilities for practice time, VANOC was dismissive but gradually admitted that maybe Canadian athletes did have a home court advantage just as Chinese athletes did with practice facilities before the Peking Olympics.

Certainly, some frankness and commitment for minimum access for all countries a few months ago likely would have saved a lot of grief for the Vancouver organizers and Canada now and in the future.

As for Friday's tragedy, VANOC has taken some precautions such as starting the men's luge competition from the women's starting point. But Canada and VANOC likely will take blame for building a track that was likely designed to be too fast.

No comments:

Post a Comment