As a former sports journalist, I, of course, watched the London Olympic Games. But I am saddened and highly surprised by the obsession of some reporters and pundits to concentrate so much on the number of medals Canadian athletes won, or didn't win, rather than realizing the true meaning of the Olympics. It's a gathering of people from around the world who compete in a friendly and harmonious atmosphere.
I even read somewhere a piece about the ratio of medals for each country based on population and GDP. Don't these reporters have anything better to do?
Trust me, I am not naive to overlook the fact that many countries and/or their leaders—not to forget sports entrepreneurs—look at the Games as an opportunity to enhance their image, or to even score points against their enemies or adversaries. Their goals are about as Olympic as the motives of a mercenary to act as a selfless freedom fighter.
But this is beside the point. Let's be honest and admit that the Olympics have long ago devolved from being a sports event into a highly successful commercial, political, and show-business enterprise with budgets of billions and where winning does not only bring glory, but huge monetary rewards. Not for all the competitors, however!
As for the events, some have become a sort of a "flavour of the powerful" choice—more relevant to the members of the IOC, who have been caught in corrupt practices, than a true reflection of the popularity of the sports around the world. What can be said about the Games where windsurfing or beach volleyball, to name but a few, were "in", but where baseball, rugby, and North American football—watched by hundreds of millions and practised by tens of millions in many countries—were excluded?
When was a windsurfing competition ever rated as a "most watched" program anywhere?
There is, however, another aspect, usually overlooked: namely the motivation and incentives to compete in the Olympics.
For many individuals, especially in poverty-stricken countries or in some emerging but not yet democratic societies, being a champion or even being in the limelight is one of the few opportunities available to come out of the slums or misery. Their unique dedication and determination ought to be admired and supported.
And there are those countries where children, often barely in primary school, or even younger, are taken away from their homes and hauled in a "sports factories". There they are relentlessly pushed to the limits, with no regard for their well being, but for the glory of the state, and where only the strongest survive. The others are eliminated without mercy and replaced by newcomers being put through the same cruel routines.
And I am not talking about the hockey moms or soccer moms, or swimming-fanatic parents, who do it on their dime and time, but about government-orchestrated and strictly controlled programs. They remind us of the destiny of former Soviet or East German swimmers and athletes, pumped since childhood with hormones, steroids, and other substances, looking nowadays like zombies.
Many of the women are covered with thick facial and body hair, and are fat, bloated, disfigured, and fighting all kind of atrocious health challenges. But they brought in the medals their governments used to distract the people from their dismal economic and societal failures.
Which brings me back to some unpleasant comments about our Canadian participants. Surely, some did not perform as expected, others did their best, but there were others better than ours, and a few were on the podium.
No matter what, they all trained hard, played by the rules, behaved like proud Canadians, and we have to admire their commitment and sacrifices.
Finally, we should all remember that. For the most of them, this exhilarating experience, even when they were on the podium, will probably not translate into big financial rewards through professional careers or very lucrative endorsements.
Michael Phelps, probably the best swimmer in sports history, will be soon worth about $100 million and for those like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, or Kevin Durant, the Olympic gold was not necessary to enhance their multimillion contracts. But they played hard to win, as true professionals do, and they earned their medals.
However, most of our athletes will have to return to their daily jobs, or studies, carrying wonderful memories. Perhaps a few might get their pictures on a cereal box, but they will still have to do something else to survive.
We should salute with respect and thank all of those brave Canadians who have proudly represented our country in London over the past few weeks. We should give them more support, not only financial, but also by telling them whenever the opportunity arises that they carried with them the dreams and aspirations of our entire country. That's all that counts.
And please leave the medal count to the politicians or, even better, to the statisticians. They are, all of them, boring anyway!
Jack Chivo is a retired journalist who lives in West Vancouver.