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The Games Leave Me Cold

What is the point of the Winter Olympics? Am I the only one who feels somewhat uninspired by these Games? Is it the lack of an incident with international repercussions? Or is it just that there really are more important things going on in the world right now to worry about other than an elitist get-together in the mountains?

While I can normally find a pressing reason to spend time watching anything that bottles the spirit of competition and serves it up for public consumption, the Turin Games leave me cold. Sure, there have been enough sparks to start a fire on the mountain: the performance of the North Americans in hockey, and the Olympics would not be the Olympics without the usual allegations of doping, especially with that Austrian coach playing hide-and-seek with the carabinieri, but these all seem like small consolations, subplots in a grander narrative taking place elsewhere.

In another book, one could have imagined the Games as providing an alternative narrative of the world, a contrast to the death toll from cartoons, the demoralizing tensions of bird flu, the war in Iraq and the torpor of reality television but, as is often the case with Big Sport these days, Turin has merely confirmed that there is good and evil in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I can't help being weighed down by a feeling of, so what? Although I am allergic to snow by inclination, I can still remember a time when I wouldn't have missed the drama of the ice dancing with its geopolitical judging conspiracies or the high tension of the bobsled and the thrill of the downhill racing. It could be that, from my vantage point here in Africa, in the middle of the dry season, curling in Turin seems just too esoteric. But it might just be that with so many marketing men, and so many competitions being hyped to the nth degree, that these giant sporting events have lost some of their epic quality.

I was struggling to put my finger on my ennui until I read one commentator argue that money is to blame: "As I view the Olympics," he argued, "I realize they are just part of the culture of capitalism where the winner takes all. Where average people subsidize the already wealthy. Where precious resources are diverted from building a better world for all to live in into the pockets of already bloated corporations."

I wouldn't go that far -- after all, one can still admire the competitive instincts of the athletes as an eternal measure of the capacity of the human will to endure, that is, as long as you feel those athletes are not all resorting to the lab to enhance their natural ability. Still, whatever highs these athletes achieve, it is hard to resist the feeling that it is this winner-take-all culture that attracts the cheats and spoilsports.

As for the issue of diverting precious resources into the pockets of corporations, that is a charge that is harder to deny. Already the Turin Games are experiencing the same symptoms of an economic flu that has dogged just about every Olympics since the Montreal fiasco. I gather that for these Games there is an estimated $96-million (U.S.) budget shortfall on overall spending of $3.6 billion.

In Vancouver, which will host the next Winter Olympics, apparently the Vancouver Organizing Committee has just announced that construction costs for Olympic venues has risen by 23 per cent. Nothing has even been built yet, and to think that the last summer Games, in Athens, was originally budgeted at $4.6 billion and ended up costing the people of Greece more than $8 billion.

So, as I flit across the three channels showing blanket coverage of the Games, I can't help wondering why bother, who benefits and what is the point of all this anyway? If the whole idea of the Olympic spirit of brotherly love and all that seems a bit naive, then why don't we just hand over the whole thing to the corporate ethic and let them run the show?

After all, you cannot really expect amateur organizations such as the International Olympic Committee and Big Government to underwrite the infrastructure for a commercial event like the Olympic Games. If the whole thing were to be entirely financed by the corporate coin, I bet they'd do away with all that cross-country skiing that seems always to be on the telly whenever I flit across the three channels (yes, three) and their wall-to-wall coverage of these Games.

Still, it's not the fault of the athletes and, for those who love their winter sport, February has been a blessed month. Me, I'm glad it's all over and now we can all turn our global attention back to things that people all over the world really care about. Like the Oscars.

Well, when it comes to taking our minds off things . . .

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