If arrogant nationalism were a sport, Canada would win gold

Why did Gretzky play role in ceremonies – he hasn’t lived here for 20 years

By HENRY AUBIN, The GazetteFebruary 16, 2010

The Olympics are supposed to be uplifting. So far, the Vancouver Olympics are anything but.

The problem starts at the very top: the Own the Podium initiative, that federally sponsored program that aims to overcompensate for the supposed ignominy of Canada’s modest collection of medals at past Olympics by making this country the No. 1 nation in terms of medals won. That’s right, No. 1. Arrogance, not the Olympic spirit, is what inspires Own the Podium.

Yes, let’s not forget the Olympic spirit. It’s that corny but terrific idea that, in the words of Pierre de Coubertin, “The important thing is not to win but to take part.” That idea has become unfashionable in recent decades, but the organizers of these Games have consigned it to oblivion.

The symptoms of the new approach surfaced well before the start of these Games. As early as last September the New York Times reported that Canadian officials were going all out to exploit their home-field advantage for these Games. They were giving U.S. athletes, unlike their Canadian counterparts, minimal opportunities to become familiar with the luge track, speedskating oval and ski hill – the peculiarities of which can can greatly affect performance. The head of USA Luge understandably complained of “poor sportsmanship.”

Certainly little sportsmanship was on display Sunday when the Canadian women’s hockey team piled it on 18-0 against Slovakia. It was embarrassing. Pure humiliation. Never mind that the Olympic Charter says the Games should set a “good example” for upcoming generations.

Arrogance implies insensitivity, and you could see a lot of that at the opening ceremony. Although the organizers bent over backward to give an appropriate place to Canada’s native people, their blind spot in regard to French Canada was staggeringly disrespectful. You’d almost think a sovereignist mole had staged the whole ceremony to stoke Quebec’s resentment.

But it’s not just the organizers’ hubris that’s dispiriting. It’s also their clumsiness in staging the opening ceremony.

To be sure, the soirée included some gems – the snowboarder who sailed through the middle “O” of the Olympics’ five-ring logo, the orcas, the giant illuminated bear, and k.d. lang’s Hallelujah. The dedication of the entire soirée to the memory of the Georgian luger was also right.

But the show as a whole lasted way too long – the Mountie flag-carriers’ slow-mo march, the youth floating over wheatfields, skiers and snowboarders yo-yoing up and down a mountain. Pure tedium. Almost every act could have been shortened by a third or half.

And then there was the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. Let’s not dwell on the failure of an ice pole to rise: We all know about technology’s whims. But it’s the organizer’s considered choice of Wayne Gretzky as the final torch-bearer that’s more disappointing. He hasn’t been a resident of Canada for decades. And, if his expression was any indication, he didn’t seem too honoured

Lighting the cauldron is a symbolic role. It should belong to a person with some relationship to the Olympic movement’s core of amateurism, much compromised though it is. Gretzky, for all his athletic prowess, is not remotely connected to those roots. He personifies professional sport and – as the head of his own clothing line and huckster for soft drinks, beer, fast food, watches, cars and oil – he also incarnates the commercialism that surrounds sport. When the organizers of the Vancouver Games chose Gretzky, they in effect gave an official stamp of approval to this commercialism as it affects the Olympics.

Most of the things I’ve criticized – nationalistic swagger, use of the home-field advantage, poor sportsmanship, insensitivity and an embrace of commercialism – have occurred in earlier Olympics. But if there were medals for taking these traits to new levels, Vancouver would truly own the podium.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

15 thoughts on “If arrogant nationalism were a sport, Canada would win gold

  1. Cristina Moldoveanu-Constantinescu:

    So maybe next time the female hockey team should let someone else to win for a change… so they’re not going to be accused of arrogance!!?!!

    I do agree with Gretzky being a poor choice for the final torch bearer… but whatever…

  2. Rudhro Sarkar:
    No. The point isn’t to let another win, the point is not to rub it in a loser’s face. 5-0 would have been fine. It’s sportsmanlike. It’s like playing against someone in a wheelchair, do you beat the shit out of them? No. You still show respect.

    This article was a bit tooooooo cynical, even for me though.
    But then again, I couldn’t give a shit about the olympics…i did watch that snowboard cross thing, i’ve never seen it before, it looks scary as heck!
    the whole thing seems a bit too cultish for me, and money based/biased. crass et commercialise…

  3. Cristina Moldoveanu-Constantinescu:
    I don’t agree with you. It’s like saying to your kid in school that she/he shouldn’t answer all the questions and shouldn’t rub her/his intelligence in other kids’ face.

    And you wouldn’t ask a let’s say marathon runner to go slower at the end since the runner is ahead of others by 15 minutes… We are competitive by nature (survival of the fittest) and we have to give it our very best in whatever we’re doing… that’s professionalism, not arrogance.

  4. Cristina Moldoveanu-Constantinescu:
    And maybe playing with someone in wheelchair or with a kid you wouldn’t rub it in their face, but that’s mainly because you have an unfair advantage against them… In the olympics… they’re considered equal in talent and skills…

  5. Rudhro Sarkar:
    no–these tiny countries are not equal to super-rich western countries, everyone knows that.
    and ‘survival of the fittest’ don’t apply there, if you use it in that manner.
    read my note on evolution.

    this debate is about sportsmanship cris–look that up…. See More
    if you know you’re superior, you do not kick absolutel ass, it’s called character, outside of sports.
    sports is not the same as writing a math exam–a test in school is a competition against yourself, anyway.

    cristina, you do realize the olympics are only a comparison of how much differing nations–usually all wealthy, spend on their athletes…
    how is this fair?
    how is this “considered equal in talent and skills”?

    they should all be restricted–in drugs, in funding, in ‘supplements’, in foods, in clothing, in facilities, in equipment, in ALL things, and THEN they can claim it to be an even competition.

    the winter olympics are just the ‘white’ games anyways
    “the world’ isn’t watching–just the northern hemisphere–the global north, the wealthy nations of the world…

  6. Cristina Moldoveanu-Constantinescu:
    You’re saying this because they won against Slovakia 18-1, but they also scored 10-1 against Switzerland, and in many ways Switzerland is considered a more rich country.

    And sportsmanship is defined as “Conduct and attitude considered as befitting participants in sports, especially fair play, courtesy, striving spirit, and grace in losing.: (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sportsmanship)”

    I didn’t watch the game, don’t care much about hockey, but :… See More

    a) Did they play fair, according to the game’s rules? I’m assuming yes.

    b) Striving spirit – doesn’t this have something to do with passion for the game (i.e. give it all when playing)?

    c) all, this is up to the losing team… as in who cares I lost 1-18 or in the shoot-out? It’s just a game… Nobody should take it too personally…

    If I win 18-1 and go to the loosing team and start calling names, that’s poor sportsmanship, but if I win 18-1 fair and square and don’t think I’m some kind of god because of that, I think it’s nothing wrong with that. Tomorrow I might play against another team and they might kick my sorry ass.

    And coming from a small, eastern and not so rich country, I don’t like when people from western and wealthier countries say what you say… I consider THAT being ARROGANCE, because you automatically feel superior to me (just because you have more money). Sure, training conditions are a plus, but not the only plus. Ethiopia is not one of the richest countries in the world and yet you can’t question their running skills (and other skills).

    Are the Olympics highly commercial? YES! But come on, you can’t ask a team to stop at 5-0 or 5-1! THAT will make it commercial, in my opinion!

  7. Rudhro Sarkar:
    amusing how you skipped right over the “COURTESY” part of your definition.
    running takes no EQUIPMENT and training facilities and all that garbage–it’s basically a naked humanoid running forever. THAT is why a brown country can match up silly.
    courtesy dictates that you DO NOT kill an opponent, but convey your superiority and leave it at that.

    it SHOULD NOT BE ABOUT MONEY AT ALL. romania ought to be able to be evenly matched to canada.
    what kind of competition is just a show of money? that’s garbage.

  8. Cristina Moldoveanu-Constantinescu:
    Then you still didn’t answer: ‘How come Switzerland lost 1-10?’ I’m sure they have the MONEY and EQUIPMENT and training facilities… And btw, have you actually been to Slovakia to check their funding and training facilities? You just assume that because it’s a small country from Eastern Europe they don’t have all that. Is it really? I should check this, but I seriously doubt that someone interviewed the Slovakian team and they said:’It wasn’t fair. They should’ve stopped at 5-0.’ If I want to better myself I want to know how badly I suck so I know how long is the way from bad to good, or the best…

    And sports is the same as a math exam. You still need schools and books and people to teach you math, as much as you need training facilities and equipment and coaches to teach you hockey.

    And besides, in sports or anything in life, we have to learn that loosing is OK, not matter how badly. I suck today, I loose tomorrow, and the day after I might win… By saying that Canada should’ve stopped at 5-0 or 5-1 instead of 18-1 you’re just saying that it’s something wrong with loosing 1-18 in the first place, which I don’t think so…… See More

    Anyways, from what you’re saying, maybe next time they should have a rich countries olympics and poor countries olympics… maybe that would be fair?!!?

  9. Rudhro Sarkar:
    No Cristina, as I already stated, they should CAP shit, like FUNDING, steroids, other drugs and chemical shit like supplements, facilities and all that–put everyone on an even playing field FIRST and then call it a fair competition.
    The original Olympics were played naked, don’t forget.

    As for the courtesy and sportsmanlike shit? Our differences I think are due to you having a different perspective than mine. I am talking about causing another to LOSE FACE, and talking about whether or not you can CHOOSE to HUMILIATE an opponent–in front of the whole world.
    … See More
    Did you read the article regarding access to training times on certain venues? IS that sportsmanlike of Canada?

    They were discussing this debate on the Current today, I didn’t really catch it, but I thought of you–did you hear it?

  10. Cristina Moldoveanu-Constantinescu:
    No, I haven’t heard that debate, and I haven’t read the article, but I think they’re 2 different things. ‘Is Canada fair in this winter Olympics?’, is one of them, and ‘Why did Canada’s women hockey team won 18-1 when they could’ve just stopped at 5-1?’ it’s another. I’m talking about the second thing and just as a side note, many ‘small and poor’ … See Morecountries spend a lot of money on training and many of the athletes train in other countries as well, wherever the conditions are better. And another example, US women hockey won against Russia 13-0 yesterday. You could say the same thing, western rich country against eastern poor country, blah blah blah… but let’s not forget, in men’s hockey, Russia is a possible medal contender. Sure, you could argue that Russia maybe is a macho society, so they give all the money and advantages to the men and keep the women oppressed, although I think that Canada women vs men teams are not even close in terms of funding… but that’s a totally different thing.

    In any case, let’s agree to disagree, otherwise I could go on forever.

  11. Rudhro Sarkar:
    I think somewhere i mis-argued. And this riled you up. Honestly, my initial issue would apply even againt China, or the USA or whomever. IF you HAPPEN to be superior in one event, it is not necessary to show someone up like a mutherfuck.
    It’s sorta like that Ethiopian skiier dude? the winners of the race were waiting at the finishline and wouldn’t accept their medals until they could shake his hand when he came in to place, y’know?
    I GUESS it could be interpreted so many different ways, and sure, depending on context and circumstance SURE, they could have been nazis at the line, waiting to mock, insult and belittle him….but they way “I” heard it, and the way it was conveyed to me, it was with character, in a sportsmanlike manner that they congratulated the dude because he is competing against so many odds and is courageous in his attempt–it isn’t any perceived superiority that lets the winners congratulate hinm, but in the spirit of what the games mean–or used to mean.

    See, THAT is the difference between kicking someones ass meaninglessly 18-0, and waiting at the finish line to show your respect for a competitor who has persevered against difficult odds…. See More

    My issue is about a lack of spirit, NOT having people belittle or PATRONIZE romanian dog-sledders (joke).
    You’ve misinterpreted, and it was my fault for comparing country size and shit.
    For a second I thought you “incognizantly revealed” something, but I realize I started it with my poor word choice and example. 🙂

  12. Rudhro Sarkar:
    Cristina, I’ve decided to agree with you. It’s been in my head for all these days, and I’ve caught a few events, women’s hockey even, and they interviewed one of the women and asked about the score differential etc, and what she said –what you said, made sense. I think at times I become an irrational communist and it really is against human nature, innovation and future improvement.
    I’m glad you argue with me without taking anything personal or whatever. You make me think, and question my thoughts.
    And I realize your argument was definitely stronger.
    I just have an irrational bitterness towards wealth and politics and it leads me down some strange paths.

    I was watching the swiss vs can mens game last night and I wondered HOW they could score ‘less’ and it made no sense at all. You compete and you do what you do best–anything else would be stupid, and unnatural. And yes patronizing.

    And there is debate about cancelling the womens hockey completely because they are so lop-sided and boring? but they said it’s cuz canada has gone further in gender-equity in this sport, and other countries have not. Also, even the men’s event back in the 1940s canada kicked germany or some country (ok probably not germany cuz we were actually killing them)–so maybe the 1950s? i dunno but the scores were like 69-3 or something ridiculous…and it’s part of the evolution of changing events that some teams start out crazy good, and then, other teams improve up to being competitive rivals…

    i plead suffering from irrational bleeding heart canadian syndrome…sometimes it is inappropriate

  13. Cristina Moldoveanu-Constantinescu:
    lol… I’m glad to see you can admit when you think you’re wrong as much as you can fight for your beliefs when you think they’re true:-) I like that about you!

    Btw, did you watch snowboarding half-pipe? That’s some crazy shit going on there.

  14. i’m actually surprised by how much i actually AM following–i caught the half pipe snowboarding–it is SO scary! and there weren’t any errors that i saw…but in some crazy highlights, i saw how the fuck up–OUCH it looks crazy painful..i mean to the hospital painful. double concussions and shit.

    i like debating people who can yell and scream with me, like you, cuz it helps me think. just cuz i argue from one side, rarely am i fixed, only with god, religion, marriage umm umm these kinds of things am I an unabashed bigot.

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