SEARCH 2000 Games

Saturday, September 23, 2000
Griping rights tied to support for athletes

By NOEL GALLAGHER -- London Free Press

 CBC's live airing of the Sydney Olympics is often a case of deja viewing. No matter the sport, the same scenario is rerun with relentless monotony.

 Before each contest, the chances of the Canadian entries are dutifully hyped. When our home-grown favourites fail to top the field, the commentators launch their "expert" analysis of the setback, usually assigning blame to the athlete.

 If complaining, second-guessing and finger-pointing were Olympic events, Canada would be hip deep in gold medals.

 Why, ponder the pundits, is Australia (population 19 million) stacking up the victories while Canada, a country of 30 million, languishes near the tail end of the trophy list.

 That query was put to Canadian Sports Minister Denis Codere by Brian Williams, CBC host and self-appointed Grand Inquisitor.

 After noting "the billions of dollars" spent by the Aussies on their Olympic program, Codere admitted the money this country budgets to support athletes "could be better."

 That gross understatement wasn't challenged by the unusually respectful Williams.

 For the record, an Olympic hopeful who qualifies for government help receives, at best, a little more than $1,000 per month. Our athletes must live, train and survive below the poverty level -- for years -- and we still expect them to do us proud on the world stage.

 It's no surprise CBC front man Williams doesn't criticize the government that subsidizes his TV network. CBC used our tax bucks to pay $160 million for broadcast rights at these Games.

 Meanwhile, Canada is content to be a Third World nation in athletics and makes Olympic glory a next-to-impossible dream for competitors.

 And our Olympians are growing tired of shouldering the Canadian public's unreasonable expectations.

 "People expect gold medals from us but they have to put the money into it to get those Olympic medallists and to keep us in the pool," says swimmer Joanne Malar. "A lot of us are going to retire because another four years to get bad press when you come fifth in the world isn't worth it."

 Another swimmer, Marianne Limpert, a silver medallist at the Atlanta Games, agrees: "If the government put some money into sport, then it might give us more confidence that they think we are worthwhile and behind us when we get up on the blocks."

 Many of the folks bemoaning our Olympic team's rare wins are the same voices raised in opposition when anyone suggests more tax dough should be ticketed for amateur sports programs.

 The Games are a pay-as-you-play proposition. You don't want to ante up? Fine. But you give up all griping rights when you watch Canadian athletes getting their butts kicked.

 That said, look at the response when Simon Whitfield beat all odds to win gold in the triathlon.

 "It was unbelievable," a middle-aged man told his friends in London's YMCA recently.

 "I was sitting all alone in front of my TV. I saw this kid Whitfield coming down to the finish line, giving it everything he had. I couldn't help myself, I stood up and applauded. It just made me so damned proud."

 Identifying with our athletes when they succeed and disowning them when they don't. That isn't an "Only in Canada, you say?" situation but it's still an awful pity.
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