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Global scold, Canada treads foolishly into moral supremacy

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Friday, February 9, 2018 – Page B11

PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA -- At the end of her prepared remarks on Thursday - a good portion of them spent taking an unsubtle swipe at Russia - Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith read "something our athletes created as a manifesto."

It said, in part: "We all have something to prove, each in our own way, like those who came before us and those who will come after. ... Now we've earned the right to prove it to the world. ... This is who we are. We are the proof. We are Canada."

I was under the impression that manifestos were a reason many of us fled to Canada in the first place. So it is a small surprise to find we've gotten into the business of writing them.

This is where Own the Podium and an integrity vacuum in the Olympic movement, spiced with the Russian doping scandal, gets you.

One day, Canada is a quiet participant. The next, it's become the Rupi Kaur of the sports world. We're the guys out there trying to tell you how we feel about all of this, and would really like to recite something to you from our dream journal.

We've also apparently decided we are now the moral arbiters of the Olympic movement. I'm not sure why anybody would want the job, or even that we're best suited to it.

Take for instance the manner in which the COC handled the curious matter of an international incident in the athletes' canteen.

Here's what happened - somebody said something to a Russian about sanctions, offence was taken and a confrontation ensued. Maybe. None of this would have come out but for a Russian official crowing about it on Thursday, saying Canada had been dressed down for the incident.

We did what to who now?

Hard to say, according to the COC. So hard that they would not actually admit it had happened or involved a Canadian, though, bafflingly, we apologized for it.

"We never had, like, all the complete facts around this. We were informed of this. We were informed that there were different [national organizing committees] and that it could be Canada. From there, we took it seriously enough to send a note to the [Russian] team and this morning connecting with the [Russian] team to say, 'Hey, we're sorry if it happened.' It was all good, and now we're moving to the Games," COC sports director Eric Myles said. "It's not bigger than that."

Than what? Than a breadbox?

Whatever went on, it would seem to be in keeping with our new mission as global scold.

"There's no place for doping in sport," Smith said. "To be clear, this isn't Canada's fight alone ... it's not going to be easy, but it's worth the fight. The fight for all that's good in sport, epitomized for us by our athletes."

Though Russia was not identified, the implication was clear.

The language around doping at the highest levels in Canada has become evangelical recently.

That's probably down to a few things.

In this current era of cheaters, Canada remains unsullied.

Though dozens of Canadian athletes are serving doping bans, you've likely never heard of any of them. Most play fringe sports - one is a broomballer - and aren't anywhere near an Olympic podium.

China can't say that. Nor can the United States or Germany.

Russia is obviously out. The Scandinavians have problems in this regard. Everyone else has bigger fish to fry than making sure no one on the archery circuit is taking poppers on their day off.

That's left Canada in a smug position vis-à-vis drugs.

We were in the same spot two years ago in Rio, but Smith - then still new on the job - kept her powder dry. When asked about Russia, she repeatedly pivoted to "our main focus is the athletes."

That tack has changed here.

Now the focus is moving to everyone else.

Though he no longer represents Canada as such, Dick Pound has a role in this philosophical shift. If Smith is the good cop, Pound is Howard Beale screaming out a window.

This week, Pound slapped the International Olympic Committee around like a vaudeville act with all sorts of sky-is-falling talk.

"We are in trouble now," Pound said. "We need to make it clear to the world that our decisions and actions are based on principles that distinguish the Olympic movement from entertainment sports."

"Entertainment sports." That would make the Olympics what exactly? Instructional sports?

Ethically hygienic sports?

Perhaps the Olympics should be staged for free and turn no profit, lest the temple be defiled.

This preposterously lofty way of speaking of the Games seems to rise in inverse relation to its decline in public esteem. The more the Olympics is corrupted, the more some will insist it is incorruptible.

It's the same specious argument the IOC deploys when it's making surfing and skateboarding official sports because that's what its broadcast partners want.

The Olympics has always been the same thing - a profitable track meet staged on the principles of realpolitik. Since the stakes are national pride as well as base capitalism, there is no event at which more incentives to cheat linger about.

The Times of London recently reported it had seen a list suggesting that a third of all major cross-country skiing medals won from 2001-10 went to athletes who produced "suspicious" test results indicative of blood doping. Dozens of them are here in Pyeongchang. No one seems to care. This has all gotten very old.

If the Olympics is worried about its perception as an event overrun by dopers, testing is not the answer. Not testing is.

No amount of Western fingerwagging will change that reality.

All it does is remind everyone the whole thing's crooked, as well as set the wagger up for a hard fall.

Thirty years after Ben Johnson, Canada has become the world's Wagger-in-Chief. We'll see how it long it takes before we regret that decision.

Associated Graphic

From left: The Canadian Olympic Committee's Tricia Smith, Chris Overholt, Eric Myles and Isabelle Charest listen to bobsledder Cam Stones during a news conference in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Thursday.


Huh? How did I get here?
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