However long this will stay up:
Morris Dalla Costa of the London Free Press doesn’t think Todd Bertuzzi deserves to be an Olympian. I disagree with Costa’s reasoning, and I told him so.
“The Olympics were at one time the showcase of athletic purity. Making the Olympics was the reward for athletes who were dedicated enough to prepare for four years, often through great hardship, to compete on the world stage.”
I question that they ever were a showcase of athletic purity. Going right back into the early 80s (as far as I can remember, and likely even farther), they were showcases of professional athletes pretending to be amateurs. The Soviet Red Army team were theoretically amateurs, but I doubt they ever took part in field exercises with their fellow soldiers. They were pros: paid and fed and clothed and housed to play hockey. (But hey, I knew of guys in the Canadian Forces in the same situation, so who am I to criticize?)
The Olympics as showcases of athletic purity died in spirit the first time a country pulled out to protest political conflicts with ideologically opposed nations. They died officially (for me, anyway) 4 years later when the US Dream Team took to the basketball court.
If you add up the salaries of the Canadian men’s Olympic Hockey Team, I think you’d find that they total in excess of $75 million US. (I’m an Oilers fan and have been for years; few of us are unaware of what many players are paid.) Yes, professional hockey players have a hard life; even the lowest-paid Canadian men’s hockey Olympian has at least 475,000 reasons to continue at it though. I’m no less disappointed seeing Bertuzzi wearing Team Canada colours than I am at seeing all his teammates doing the same. As you say, the Olympics used to be about sacrifice. NHL players can have their cakes and eat it too, unlike some of their female counterparts.
I stopped watching the Olympics at all in 1988 at the age of 15 after Ben Johnson was disqualified. As John Ralston Saul said of the Olympic ideal, “[t]he amateur athletes were soon living in a parody of amateurism. They had careers and future income riding on the competition. Winners became heroes, that is to say political heroes . . . What the Greeks managed to do in 1,170 years, we have done in less than 100.”
I’ll watch the Canadian Olympic hockey teams play, but I have no illusions about the Olympics. It’s political grandstanding, pure and simple. I’ll watch the men because I want to see the best in the world, not because I believe they’re there for the purity of athletic spirit.