Money Yes, Pride No

By Jason Menard

Apparently, when it comes to national pride, some of our athletes’ hearts can only be bought – not donated.

More and more Canadian athletes are coming forth to proactively decline even the notion of carrying the Maple Leaf in the opening ceremonies in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. The general consensus is that the pressures of competing and the energy that’s required to do so precludes them from expending any extra energy in carrying the flag.

Interestingly enough, Catriona Le May Doan didn’t suffer from that expenditure of extra energy when she proudly carried the Canadian flag in the Salt Lake City games before winning speed skating gold. I suppose we’ll always wonder how much better Gaetan Boucher would have competed in Sarajevo without the burden of carrying the flag – after all, he only won two golds and a bronze. What if?

From Silvie Daigle’s gold to Brian Orser’s silver, the flag has not really had a negative impact on those that carry it. Sure, Jean-Luc Brassard and Kurt Browning had less-than-stellar performances after being the nation’s flag bearer, but is that really to be blamed on the opening ceremonies?

The Canadian Olympic Committee has asked each sport to submit its nominee as a flag-bearer. From that pool, the committee will then choose who they feel would be the best representative of Canada on this international stage. And while most of us would give considerable parts of our reproductive organs to have this honour, there are those athletes who are choosing to look a gift horse in the mouth.

I can only hope they get kicked by it.

It seems when the cheques come in funding the training and living expenses for our elite athletes, it’s alright to be a Canadian. But to take part in a deeply symbolic ritual that stokes the flames of passion and nationalism in the hearts of those who can get no closer than their couch to the event – well, that’s crossing a line.

I’m sure that the flag is heavy and cumbersome. In fact, I can understand how these elite athletes can get fatigued by walking the WHOLE length of a stadium carrying this awkward pole. And then, when the wind kicks up and the flag billows majestically in the evening breeze – unfurling to show the world the beauty and uniqueness of our national flag – well, yes that could get a little tricky on the ol’ balance.

Normally I don’t care about the Olympics. And, to be honest, neither do most of you who are reading this. The fact is that Olympic fever spreads across this country like a plague every couple of years (alternating for summer and winter, of course). Sports and athletes that we normally don’t care about or support by attending any of the intervening competitions or meets during the other three years, suddenly become front-page fodder. Guys that normally couldn’t tell a salchow from a slapshot are suddenly debating the inconsistencies of international judging and its negative impact in North American competitors.

And once these Olympics are over, the spotlight will fade on these same athletes well before the last ember of the torch is extinguished. In the interval, they have the attention of the world on their hands – they should relish it. When you toil in obscurity for so many years, why turn your back on the opportunity to have your moment in the sun?

Maybe it’s a rejection of the band-wagon jumping fans who only care about these athletes when there’s a medal around their necks. And that’s understandable to an extent. Fans are quick to condemn these athlete’s when they don’t show up on the podium, despite not showing any concern for their fates in the intervening years.

But at the end of the day, Canadians are the ones who fund the athletes’ experience. The competitors supply the drive and motivation, but we supply the means. To reject the flag is a rejection of Canadians. Not only has the average fan invested in the athlete’s experience, but to be offered the privilege of carrying our national flag is an honour – and to reject it outright is an insult, no matter what your reason is.

One of the greatest Olympic images is of the countries where these athletes struggle each day to live – not just compete. And when they’ve overcome such overwhelming odds to show up on the national stage their pride is palpable. Remember back to the first time that athletes represented individual countries formerly under the Soviet Republic – they took pride in their flag and their country. Perhaps we live too pampered of a life to appreciate what it means to be Canadian. Perhaps these athletes should look around at their co-competitors and learn first-hand what it means to have pride in your nation.

These athletes who have peremptorily removed their names from consideration as a flag bearer have to wonder – should they go on to win gold, will it be tarnished by their symbolic rejection of the very nation they’re supposed to represent.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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