Yesterday my colleague blogged about the positive reputation of Olympic athletes. Today I’m taking a look at the games themselves and specifically, this year’s organizer, Canada.
The Olympics offer a unique opportunity for a country to shine by placing it front and center on the world stage. Prior to the start of the games, the Vancouver Observer stated, “In summary, Canada will be an international stage for a theatrical performance that can significantly affect Canada’s international reputation, and we are all players. We must act the best we can – Go, Canada, Go!.”
However, foible after flop has put Canada in the unenviable position of defending itself instead of celebrating its performance.
First it was the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili after an accident on a final training run before the opening ceremonies. His death has bred criticism of the Whistler track where the accident occurred, on which Italian gold-medal favorite Armin Zoeggeler crashed earlier in the day. After the incident, The Washington Post asked its readers, “Do You Plan on Watching the Olympics?” While 53 percent of respondents said the would watch the games, another 47 percent said no.
Then on top of other issues, 20,000 tickets to events at Cypress Mountain were refunded. Today, reports of a security breach by a man with fake credentials has the media roiling. The Associated Press has taken to calling them the ‘Glitch Games’ because of all the problems. In a VANOC briefing Tuesday covering everything from transportation issues to equipment failures to weather worries to the Olympic caldron display flap, some reporters demanded to know if this might be the worst start ever to an Olympic Games.
But is all of this criticism really fair? And more importantly, will these issues mar Canada’s reputation in the long haul?
I would argue that bashing Canada’s reputation has become a bit of a sport for media covering the games. Despite the issues that have plagued them, the focus should remain on the positive. After all, the games were designed as an opportunity to bring nations – warring and friendly – together in mutual admiration and friendly competition. The games were even the site of this blog’s namesake’s most memorable moment. In Mexico in 1968, Dick Fosbury’s name became inextricably linked to the high jump after he revolutionized the sport with his famous “flop.” He won the gold medal with an Olympic record leap and forever changed the way athletes compete in the high jump.
Instead of concentrating on the various issues that have arisen, we should be celebrating the triumph of the human spirit. Lindsey Vonn’s perseverance through injury, Sean White’s second gold medal at just 23 – these and the hundreds of other stories like it should not be overshadowed by the game’s initial issues.
So is this the worst Olympics in history? Mike Vaccaro writes in the New York Post, “Some journalists, always quick to judge these things, have already declared these the Worst Games Ever, which is both premature and an unnecessary slap at Atlanta, which earned the title in 1996 and has held a vise-like grip on it ever since.” In the Globe & Mail, Dick Pound of the IOC argues, “When you compare these Games to Torino or Lake Placid or anywhere else, VANOC is a pretty well-oiled machine.”
Will the first seven days of the Olympic Games destroy Canada’s reputation? Perhaps in the short-term Canada will be the butt of many a joke, but given humans’ proclivity for error, it will likely be forgotten come the next games, hopefully leaving us rejoicing and reminiscing about the victories, not the failures.