Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Death of the Olympics

Chris Young, at JABS, has drawn attention to this unhappy article.

Most of the top candidates to carry Canada's flag in the opening ceremonies at the 2006 Turin Olympics — including cross-country skier Beckie Scott and speed skaters Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen — declined to be nominated for the honour so they can focus on their events.

If this attitude becomes widespread, it will see the end of the Olympics as a major event. Don't get me wrong, I think this would be a terrible thing. It is one of the joys of sport to see so many athletes from across the globe come together in such a vibrant, colourful, multifaceted celebration. Yet most of the reason that it has such a powerful emotional pull is because people compete as representatives of their nation. For all the spirit of togetherness that the Olympics is supposed to embody, if you remove the nation-state from the equation, it becomes just another jamboree.

I don't know whether the "flag-carrying duties" are particularly onerous - somehow, I doubt it immensely. As Chris Young says, this should be a singular honour in an athlete's career. If they refuse to recognise that being chosen as the representative of your country to the wider world is an honour, then they are turning the Olympics into an ordinary meet. Sure, they would be using the allure of the Olympics to try and improve their own personal prestige, but in the long term they will be hoist by their own petard. The prestige of the Olympics is such because the whole theory is that each nation sends their finest athletic specimens to compete before the world. If I was in charge of the committee to decide the flag-bearer, and I had athletes ask not to carry the flag, I'd accede to their request. I'd stick the flag somewhere else entirely.