By G.D. Maxwell
The Scene: A sunny winter afternoon, Dustys Smokin Joint, base of Whistler Mountain
Socrates:And still, you seem troubled over... over what, a game?
Max:Were it but a game. The Olympics are far beyond mere games, old man. This is commerce, first and foremost. Commerce, politics, and far, far after those more weighty considerations, it is sport, although even that may be elevating its real status. Its hard to tell whether the Olympics, in any way beyond the words of the Olympic Philosophy, has nearly as much to do with sport for sports sake or sport as a means to an end.
Soc:Which end is that?
Max:Wealth. Power. Sponsorship. Commercial endorsement. Celebrity. The pursuit of easy street in a world bereft of participation but long on voyeurism, a television world where a growing segment of the population has lost the distinction between doing sport and watching sport.
Soc:And who are you to deny them their pleasures?
Max:If thats their pleasure, I wouldnt dream of denying it to them. I only wonder about the legitimate role of government in sponsoring a world of lethargic spectators.
Soc:But your modern Olympics, if it is anything, is a model of private enterprise, corporate sponsorship, private money. Isnt it?
Max:Youve been drinking too much hemlock, dude. The private sector may be where the profits flow, but the public sector bears the risk. And the public sector primes the pump to make it all happen. A couple of decades ago, right after some wise guy came out with a finding that the average 30 year old Canadian had about the same physical fitness as a 70 year old Swede with one lung and a broken leg, the government revved up a program called Participaction. Its sole purpose was to get Canucks off their expanding butts and out into what we like to think of as our heritage the great outdoors.
Soc:Im probably going to need another beverage. This sounds like a long rant coming up. What do you know about this subject?
Max:To use your own words, I know nothing except the fact of my own ignorance. Well, that and the fact the government now cant scrape a few bucks together to keep the program going notwithstanding the fact the average 30 year old Canadian is now about as fit as a dead Swede.
Soc:These are hard times. Were you going to buy the next round?
Max: These arent such hard times the government cant find $82 million for Sport Canada, the lions share of which goes to hosting flashy extravaganzas of sport and cultivating high performance athletes.
Soc:You would deny your countrymen sport spectacles or be miserly toward your countrys elite athletes?
Max:I would question who benefits from that strategy, yes. I would question whether its better to cultivate an atmosphere where sport is spectacle rather than something you and I and everyone else simply participates in. I would question the notion that it is governments role to fund elite athletes just to garner bragging rights. I would question whether the whole structure of corporate sports would exist without governments funding such programs. And I would question whether those public funds might not be spent more wisely to foster programs designed to bring the non-elite athletes out of their living rooms and onto playing fields, mountains, lakes, wilderness and other places where people play. But we seem to be cycling back to the question of who benefits from the Olympics.
Soc:Who do you think benefits?
Max:First and foremost, the International Olympic Committee.
Soc:Whats wrong with that? To what extent do they benefit?
Max:Youve answered your own question with another question, you dialectic devil, you. I dont know if theres anything wrong with that, theoretically speaking, partly because no one knows to what extent the IOC benefits. Thats the nature of a secret, undemocratic, corrupt organization. But theres no denying the IOC gets theirs first. Whether its licensing fees, television rights, sponsorship dollars, graft, bribes and "gifts," clearly the money flows primarily one direction and once inside the Olympic rings, the accountability pretty much ends.
Soc:But hasnt the IOC cleaned up their act?
Max: Im sure they have. Im certain theyre squeaky clean. Now if theyd just open their books, wed all know for sure.
Soc:Who else benefits?
Max:After the IOC, Im not sure anything is certain. Ive got to believe the various television networks around the world who win the rights to broadcast the Olympics benefit, theres good revenue from ads during the Games. I think the folks who run corporations who buy sponsorship rights must win or they wouldnt keep coming back to be "official" providers of Olympic shoelaces and such. There must be beneficiaries at the local level, businesses who do handsomely during the Games. Clearly the host community can benefit although one must bear in mind the late Jean Drapeaus famous guarantee that Montreals Olympics could no more lose money than a man could have a baby. And at some gut level of pride in a job well done, I imagine the people of the host city win.
Soc:Lots of winners there. You seem to have wandered out onto a rather thin and may I remind you, a thirsty branch. If the potential exists for everyone to benefit, who loses?
Max:Who indeed? I guess this is the point where we start to evaluate risks and costs and weigh them off against benefits. But at the most basic level, we will all continue to lose until this entire question is brought before a democratic forum.
Soc:Ah, the referendum question. But lets see, at last tally, the mayor and council are opposed to a referendum on the Olympics. Jack Poole, CEO of the Vancouver Bid Corp is opposed to a referendum on the Olympics. You have one learned, elected body against the idea and one appointed but surely honourable gentleman against the idea. You know what that means, dont you?
Max:Damn right. It means it must be a pretty good idea. Or at least a pretty powerful idea. Which, in its own right, points persuasively in the direction of a partial answer to the question of who benefits.
Soc:But, as I understand their position, its more a matter of time. They need to put some meat on the bones of the bid so the people know what it is theyre voting on. Whats the matter with that?
Max:Well, well have to discuss that question another time.