If The Olympics Are Reality, Canadian Conservatives Should Be Nervous
Von Clausewitz might have observed that the Olympics are simply politics pursued by other means.
The value of the Olympics is that they can be made to mean pretty much whatever you wantthem to mean. Myth making. Policy affirmation. Program shattering. The Rio Summer Olympics— almost a week old by now— have ample political implications for when things go right— and when they go wrong. Some examples:
The Americans’ brilliant swim machine Michael Phelps (who has a stunning 21 lifetime gold medals at this writing) speaks to the power and glory that was corporate America— before Barack Obama started apologizing for everything. Speaking of Obama, the brilliant gymnast Simone Biles gave truth to the new multi-racial face of the United States in the time of its first black president.
For the pariah Russians, who have seen their sporting image destroyed and their lineup depleted by drug cheating, the international censure fits perfectly with the paranoid Putin regime’s view of the world. Every diss of Russians is a bargaining chip for the current regime to play with voters.
For the British, shocked by the Brexit vote to leave the EU, the success of athletes from Scotland or Northern Ireland is bittersweet, because it could be the final time they compete with England and Wales under the same flag in the Olympics. That might mean this year is the final time tennis star Andy Murray will carry the Union Jack at a sporting event. Yes, voting has implications.
For Fiji, a tiny island nation that has experienced political and racial upheaval over many decades, these Games are about the No.1-rated men’s Rugby Sevens squad with the chance to win the first-ever medal of any colour for the Pacific island nation. The pressure to deliver— and unite the country for a while at least— is suffocating. But the politicians will use a win to justify their policies.
And for the home nation Brazil these Summer Olympics are about nothing but the politics of staging these Games at a fantastic financial and cultural cost. The steady drum beat of protesters decrying the budget overruns and environmental questions competes with the cheers of Brazilian fans for whom this first South American Games is an emotional coming-out. The favelas hovering on the hills above the Games are a constant reminder of the great contradictions of the Olympics.
Then there is Canada. There has been a significant culture change in the country since London in 2012. Justin Trudeau’s succession from the subdued Stephen Harper has changed the temperature of the nation. The photo-op sensibilities of Trudeau are a throwback to the flower-power bromides of his father’s days as prime minister. The shift can be seen in the pictures of a bare-chested Trudeau photo bombing people as the Games began.
Trudeau’s Canada is one dominated by several themes: Youth issues, cultural diversity, equality for women and a PET-like pacifism on the international scene. It is evident that while the young men and women wearing the maple leaf have some of Harper’s old-fashioned notions about hard work and discipline, they are most definitely in tune with Trudeau culturally.
According to polls, these talented millenials mostly agree with the Liberal policies on gay rights, immigration, recreational drugs and women’s rights. So when the prime minister chimes in with a tweet about “girl power” to the bronze-medal winning women’s Rugby Sevens team he’s preaching to the converted. His ability to parlay their success on social media becomes an affirmation of his policies. In short, the demographic bringing tears to our eyes in Rio is not good news for people who believe bin a conservative culture coming back anytime soon to Canada.
Not everyone is in a mellow mood over Canada’s Olympians, however. SportChek is running an overwrought commercial to illustrate the travails needed to become an Olympic champion.
“We hope defeat is in your cards…. your hope splinters into shards that you must hand pick from the bleeding wound of your defeat. We hope for a flash flood of fear and uncertainty. We wish this uncertainty upon you because it gives birth to brilliance…. you must pay with the whole of you…open your heart and pay for your pain…”
Well then... At the risk of bringing down the room, SportChek might want to ratchet that one back a notch or two for the folks at home who aren’t having roid rage. Prime minister bliss-and-harmony does not approve of downers.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).