Big hoary deal

hoary adj . ( -ier, -iest ) 1a (of hair) grey or white with age. b (of a person) having such hair; aged, venerable. 2 old and trite ( a hoary joke ). 3 Bot. & Zool. Covered with short white hairs.

— The Canadian Oxford Compact Dictionary

Just who will be the public face of the 2010 Olympics has yet to be determined but the backroom manoeuvring for the job is well underway.

No, we’re not referring to who will be CEO of the Olympic organizing committee but who will be the official mascot of the 2010 Games. Early indications are Whistler is going to left out again.

You may recall the disappointment when it was learned last year that Vancouver would be the only city named in the official bid. IOC rules stipulated that it would be the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, not the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Olympics. Well now Whistler’s whistler is losing a popularity contest to a whale.

In an unscientific Web poll last week, readers of the Vancouver Sun favoured the killer whale as the 2010 Olympic mascot. The rare kermode bear finished second and the endangered Vancouver Island marmot third. The hoary marmot, the whistling rodent that gave Whistler its name, finished dead last.

And the hoary one has an uphill battle ahead of him. A killer whale named Finn is already the mascot of the Vancouver Canucks. The kermode bear will soon be the subject of a Disney movie and the Vancouver Island marmot has Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnola stumping for it.

The hoary marmot? Well it could use a little assistance in the public relations department. There was the Willy Whistler mascot a few years ago, but he hasn’t been seen for some time. There is the Whistler Hoary Marmots rugby team, but with all due respect, a rugby team may not be the best group of athletes to represent B.C to the world.

Meanwhile, a brief tour through some of the southern Interior of B.C. last month showed mixed support for the 2010 Games. Vancouver 2010 pins were seen at Silver Star and Trail, where the chamber of commerce was handing them out at Italian Festival. At Rossland a 2010 banner was flying on the main street and a letter from Premier Gordon Campbell thanking the community for hosting a forum on the Olympics last February was displayed on a downtown notice board.

On the other side, Trail Daily Times columnist Dave Thompson ranted about the patronage appointments to the OCOG board, about Quebec bellying up to the trough and how the West Kootenay region won’t see any benefits from the Olympics.

"The VanWhistler people neither know we exist nor would care if they did," Thompson wrote.

Perhaps it’s an understandable reaction at a time when the economy is hurting, forest fires have devastated communities and government funding decisions have made life more difficult for many. But it’s also become a natural, default position for Canadians: What do we get?

Sure, the Olympic events will be in Vancouver and Whistler in 2010, but with a little planning and creative thinking other communities throughout the province could reap some rewards.

Successive provincial governments – the NDP which initiated the bid and the Liberals who have made the Games an integral part of their economic recovery plans for the province – have supported the Olympic bid because of the opportunities hosting the Games can present. That doesn’t mean money is going to automatically start flowing to every corner of the province and in the spring of 2010 every town will be able to point to examples of how the Olympics directly helped them.

It means analyzing what the Games will bring – not just in 2010 but in the years leading up to 2010 – looking at the strengths, weaknesses and goals of each community and finding opportunities from the mix.

Since the July 2 decision in Prague the Olympics have moved on from a yes-no proposition to a reality. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep an eye on the organizing committee and their spending. But there is a choice to be made: British Columbians can sit back and complain, as Thompson has, or open their eyes to opportunities, as the manager of the Creston & District Chamber of Commerce did last spring when Europeans came to visit only because Vancouver was a candidate for the Games.

The Olympics are a big hoary deal.


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