Tag Archives: Olympics

Sochi Olympics? It’s OK to Have a Gay Old Time

By Jason Menard

How can anyone who supports gay rights support this year’s Olympics in Sochi? It’s easy – it comes down to remembering the lessons taught by one man:

Jesse Owens Continue reading

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Oh Canada: Accepting Our Olympic Mediocrity As Fans

By Jason Menard

We’re just days away from the start of the 22nd Olympic Winter Games and after hitting the slopes yesterday, I’m feeling pretty athletic (OK, I was tubing, not doing anything actually physical). Maybe that’s why my feelings towards the Olympics have somewhat softened.

OK, who am I trying to kid? The Olympic movement still hits me in the bowels, but I’ve realized that my real issue, like Sloan once sang, “it’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans.Continue reading

Hockey: Not Our Game, But Our Gift

By Jason Menard,

The great game of hockey may have been born here, but it’s by no means our birthright. And it may be time to reflect upon some 40-year-old lessons that obviously haven’t been learned.

In 2014, the hand-wringing has already started. Back-to-back years where Team Canada has not medalled in the World Junior Championship has some questioning our nation’s hockey development. A gold-or-bust attitude already seems to surround discussions about the Olympic men’s squad. There’s been an unnatural fascination about eighth defensemen and 13th forwards.

There’s an underlying arrogance throughout all of this, which assumes that Canada in some way deserves the gold medal, without even needing to lace it up. All the other nations are pretenders to the throne. Continue reading

CBC Olympic Coverage On Target

By Jason Menard

Oh, the pundits are out in force, suggesting that the CBC has been too hockey-focused throughout this Olympic Games. But, really, is there any reason to argue with giving the viewers what they want – and what they’ve proven to want in the past?

How have those competitive luge ratings been over the past three years? And what were the overnights on biathlon from 2005? Oh, non-existent, OK. Pass the microphone back to Mr. MacLean now.

If the CBC wanted to dedicate all of its programming to the men’s Olympic hockey tournament and only run a crawl of the other events along the bottom of the screen, would there really be any reason to complain? These same columnists, pundits, and talking-heads – have they used their valuable air time and ink to promote these same sports that they’re now lamenting as suffering from a lack of coverage?

No. The point is, in large part, we don’t really care about these secondary sports. Some of us will jump on the old Olympic bandwagon and take some undeserved pleasure from our dedicated Canadian athletes bringing home medals. Those same fans will be the first ones to lament the loss of a medal from an athlete of whom they previously hadn’t shown any interest in.

But hockey, ah… there’s the rub. It’s the reason why the CBC clings so tenuously to the rights to broadcast these games. There’s gold in them thar rinks and, whether or not it hangs from the necks of our players, as long as the pros are playing in the Olympics it will be ringing in the national broadcaster’s coffers from Turin to Vancouver.

The hand-wringing over the CBC’s men’s hockey obsession is just a small part of the greater, unsaid debate about the broadcaster’s mandate. If we look at the broadcaster as an advocate for fair public representation responsible for showing the depth and breadth of the Canadian experience, then coverage should be meted out equally for every event and every athlete. We can let everyone have their 15 minutes of fame and then all get together at the end of the day for a big group hug.

But the CBC is hesitant to fully embrace their role as a public broadcaster – especially if tightening that grip means they have to loosen their grasp on the ideal of commercialism.

The CBC isn’t at this time just a northern PBS, preparing quality programming without being concerned about ratings. It isn’t a channel that’s dedicated to quality and diversity just for quality and diversity’s sake. It’s a network competing with others like CTV and CanWest Global for advertising dollars and viewers’ eyes. If, for the past three years, viewers have shown a marked apathy for watching non-marquee sports, why change a programming focus when the goal is to get the remotes clicked to your stations?

The simple answer is, there is none. Life isn’t fair and while bobsledders, ski jumpers, and biathletes work and train as hard, if not harder and in far less luxurious conditions, than their professional hockey counterparts, the simple fact of the matter is that those sports just don’t seem to resonate with the fans.

As a competitive broadcaster, the CBC has to dedicate air time to the events that will bring in the ratings. However, wearing its public broadcaster’s hat, it has a responsibility to help build an audience for other sports and highlight the complete mosaic of Canadian athletes. CBC hasn’t exactly blacked out these other sports and has given its viewers an opportunity to experience a wide variety of events, competitions, and disciplines. But now it’s time for the average citizen to vote with their wallets and their support.

Skeleton or Snowboard Cross pique your interest? Then spend the intervening three years between Olympics going to local competitions, supporting the athletes, and watching it on TV. If an event isn’t televised, contact your local affiliate or the broadcasters themselves and say that you, as a viewer, are interested in these events and would like to see more air time dedicated to their coverage.

That way, the next time around, when a broadcaster goes about defining an on-air schedule, they’ll know that there’s value in dedicating resources and assets to events that previously may not have warranted as much attention.

After all, while the Olympics are all about gold, silver, and bronze, for the broadcasters the only colour they care about is green. And the viewers’ eyes and the advertisers’ dollars are the only groups that they’re interested in soliciting.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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

Frozen Passion Stokes Nationalist Flame

By Jason Menard

The Olympics are fast approaching and people all around are working on their calf-strengthening exercises – you know how hard it can be on your legs jumping on and off the bandwagon. But while the alleged thrill of international competition does nothing for more in general, I have to admit that the upcoming Olympic hockey tournament has stoked my nationalistic fires.

I watch the Olympics just like everyone else – how can you not, it’s on pretty much all day every day – but that spark that ignites the rabid sports fan in even the most anti-athlete continues to elude me. As proud as I am of my country, I can’t seem to get stoked about winning a medal in ice dance. Nor am I despondent about a poor showing in skeleton (as cool as that sport is.)

Simply put, these are sports that I don’t care about for the intervening three years of my life, so why should I suddenly live and die with their fortunes once every four years? I find that somewhat hypocritical, but who am I to sit in judgment. If other people care (and they do, judging by the sudden rise in and sheer volume of arm-chair experts who can go on about the inequities in figure skating judging for the Eastern European bloc, despite not knowing the difference between a Salchow from a Lutz) then that’s their prerogative.

If you can gain enjoyment from this type of mercenary sports enthusiasm, then I say more power to you. But it’s really too bad that Olympic fever is such an acute disease. It would be nice if the infection that people get when the stakes are highest would stick around after the Olympic flame is doused. Our athletes, in large part, toil before empty houses dotted only with the odd friend or family member. While 21,000+ will sell out the Bell Centre in Montreal, ski jumpers, bobsledders, and biathletes toil in relative obscurity. Their efforts only mattering – and being unfairly scrutinized – once every four years.

However, before I douse the Olympic flame totally, let me say there is one event that stokes the fires of my competitive heart. One event that prompts me to stand up (OK, sit up forcefully on my couch) and proclaim my pride in my nation. And that sport is hockey. Already, with the various national squads announcing their teams, the thrill of anticipation is rising in me. I scan the rosters, plan out match-ups, and look for potential road blocks on the way to gold. Make no mistake, I’m excited – and I’m not alone.

I grew up in the Canada Cup era. Born slightly after the Canada-Russian Summit Series, I grew up being regaled with the stories of that epic tournament. Those implanted memories stuck with me as I became a hockey fan in my own right. And, growing up during the Cold War, those Canada-Russia games were the epitome of athletic and social competition.

As a proud Canadian, my heart sailed and sunk with the on-ice exploits of our national hockey teams. From the Canada Cup to the World Cup tournament, from the World Juniors to the World Championships (also known as the consolation prize for good players on crappy NHL teams who can’t get to the playoffs), and now to the epitome of competition – the Olympics.

Sure, these aren’t amateurs and, as such, aren’t competing in the spirit of the Olympics. But, come on, this is the best of the best competing at their peak in mid-season form. The world’s best players returning to their home countries to don their national colours and take to the ice with more than just gold, silver, or bronze on the line. They face off with the goal of earning, protecting, or restoring national pride.

What makes this even better is that I care about these people and this sport. I watch hockey in the intervening three years and am familiar with the players. I watch the junior and national programs, so I feel like I have an investment in the program. Try as I might, I couldn’t care who’s representing Canada in curling, and I will feel no joy or pride in winning gold in that event.

But if Canada comes home with gold in hockey, that’s a celebration I can legitimately feel a part of. I’ve supported the program not only in two-week Olympic intervals, so I feel justified that I’ve made enough of an investment to earn a return!

I liken it to an experience I had in high school. I won an award for top German student in grade 10 (ask me if I remember anything now), and I took little pleasure in it. However my friend, who worked his butt off and legitimately strove for this recognition, was legitimately upset when he lost. He cared, I didn’t. How much more would winning that award have meant to him? And that’s the way I feel about most Olympic sports. If I win, fine – but don’t ask me to get excited.

While many will be living vicariously through the exploits of our undeservedly anonymous speed skaters, bobsledders, and lugers, I’ll be saving my enthusiasm for when the puck drops. Winning is good, but winning at something you’ve invested in makes it all the better. If I’m going to live and die with something, it has to be something that I actually care about.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Tale of Two Cities

By Jason Menard

Apparently, winning in London depends on which side of the Atlantic you’re on.

Yesterday London, England surprised many and plucked the 2012 Olympics out from under France’s nose. And, in a cosmic balancing of franco-anglo relations, Montreal edged out London, Ontario for the rights to the Shiners Children’s Hospital.

So while they break out the party hats on Downing Street, there will be a noticeable lack of fezzes on display in The Forest City. And instead of developing a new site to help sick kids, Londoners on this side of the Atlantic will have to find a cure for bruised egos.

But once the shock and disappointment of losing what was, at one point, professed to be a sure thing passes, North American Londoners will have to realize that it’s time to strike while the iron is hot and capitalize on whatever increased recognition the city may have earned from this five-year process.

However, London’s representatives at the conference almost erased any goodwill with an inflammatory video that alleged the proposed site of a new Shriners Hospital in Montreal’s Glen Yards – next to McGill’s planned superhospital – is contaminated. That game of dirty pool has put London behind the eight ball in terms of public relations.

While all parties were making nice afterwards and saying the right things about mending fences and working together in the future for the benefit of the children, the fact of the matter is that London and Montreal’s delegations have acted more like kids themselves during this process.

Whether it was questionable accusations about contaminated land or supercilious dismissals over the status of London as a major player in the medical game, both sides haven’t come out of this unscathed. But with the right attitude going forward, London’s loss could end up being a win-win-win situation for all parties involved.

Win #1 – The city of Montreal retains the Shriners Hospital, and whether they choose to renovate the existing Mount Royal location or invest in building a new site, the city is assured of remaining a hub for specialized pediatric care in North America.

Win #2 – The Shriners, despite what Londoners may think, made the right decision. Essentially, they were taken for granted by the powers-that-be in Montreal, who ignored requests for concessions until it was almost too late. In the end, the Shriners were able to use London’s efforts to woo them to work a better deal with their existing city while continuing 80 years of tradition.

Win #3 – And this is the trickiest of all. The clock is ticking on London’s 15 minutes of fame. As it stands now, we’ve proven that our existing facilities are worthy of international recognition – so much so that we were almost able to wrest away the prize of a Shriners Hospital from much bigger competition. But the key is to be able to build on that fame and entrench it into the minds of the masses.

It’s not enough to be respected – London needs to work to be revered. Respect means that those in the industry know what your city has to offer in your chosen field. London’s got that already – our hospital system is on par with any other in the country and, thanks to the University of Western Ontario and its research facilities, we’ve earned a solid name in the medical and research communities.

But reverence? That’s something difference. To be revered means that Joe (or Jean) Average knows who you are. Reverence means that perceived transportation issues – like those that allegedly helped to sink London’s bid – are a non-factor because you’ve got that name recognition to back it up. It’s all about how you market yourself.

Londoners are blessed and cursed by our self-importance. Internally, the city’s leadership believes The Forest City is a major player on the Canadian landscape – but externally, we’re really not much more than a spot on the map. Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver – they can get away on name recognition alone. London has to work at promoting itself as a haven for the medical community.

There’s room for smaller cities to make their mark in this nation. One needs to look no further than down the 401 to see how the Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge region has become an international star in future technologies and research, powered in large part by RIM.

London needs to market itself less for its forests and more for its forceps. The Shriners’ decision shouldn’t be lamented as a loss, but rather recognized as an opportunity. The city has stepped onto the national and international stages, the audiences are waiting – now it’s time to make others see what Londoners believe: that London is, and will continue to be, a legitimate player in the theatre of Canadian health.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved