The following is not intended to be a well-researched essay, but more something that has kind of been on my mind lately. It has been frustrating to watch a series of contenders for Canada's Olympic Team for Beijing not be selected because of tough Canadian standards. To me, it has always been a bit weird that Canada chooses to endorse a philosophy of only sending people that it believes will be among the very top competitors. The Olympics as far as I've always understood things, are really supposed to be primarily about competing to the best of one's ability.
As an aside, please don't think that I would argue that we shouldn't care about measurable performance. We certainly should. What frustrates me is that there are various Olympic events, like the Marathon, for instance, in which Canada has NO entrants, not because we don't have anybody who trains hard or isn't ready to compete at that level, but because these people have been deemed not to be fast enough to contend for "top 12" performances. The message I take from this is that Canada doesn't think it's worthwhile participating at the Olympics unless you are going to be pretty bloody close to winning medals.
I won't go into a treatise about the philosophy of the Olympics, etc.. as it is beyond the scope of what I have room for. Very simply, however, the Olympic Creed, as posted on the website of the Canadian Olympic Committee, reads as follows:
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
The words of the Olympic creed are attributed to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Modern Olympic Games.
On a seemingly contradictory note, if you visit the website of the Canadian Olympic Committee, and click on the “About Us” page, you will find a section entitled “Vision”, which includes the following:
The Canadian Olympic Committee (“COC”) sees Canada among the top performing sporting nations in the works and the sees Canadians energized and engaged in the Olympic Movement and sport in Canada.
The COC envisions Canada's Olympic Winter Team in 2010 being first (1st) in the World.
The COC envisions Canada's Olympic Team in 2012 being among the top eight (Top 8) nations in the World.
The COC envisions Canada as a country where sport is central to its culture as evidenced by an active and healthy population participating in sport at all levels and in all communities.
The COC envisions the Olympic Movement being at the core of this sporting culture with Olympic values, drug free participation and ethical behaviour guiding our high performance athletes and Canada's youth.
From my perspective, if as an organization you were really concerned about promoting the Olympic Movement, which is normally linked to the Olympic philosophy, it would be difficult to at the same time announce that among the most important aspects of your vision are 3 points (out of a total of five) relating strictly to your country's position relative to others in the world. In other words, if “the most important thing in the Olympic Games is NOT to win, but to take part” then why would you seem to be so concerned about winning? Particularly so if these types of values are also described as being “at the core of this sporting culture with Olympic values.”
Winning and performing well is emphasized in many places on the Canadian Olympic Website, while relatively little attention is given to the importance of participating, or the value inherent in “the struggle”. The emphasis on performance is made clear at many levels, including, probably most importantly, in Canada's selection criteria for Olympic events. For example, a description of the Olympic selection criteria for athletics, taken from the Athletics Canada website, reads as follows:
This is the Olympic Games! Athletics Canada (AC) has established these Criteria to accurately reflect performance readiness that indicates an athlete’s capability of finishing in the top 12 at the Olympic Games. Our intention is to compete with the best in the World on our biggest stage.
As indicated in AC’s current Strategic Plan, the specific objectives are to bring home 2 medals, that 40% of the team achieves a top 12 performance, and that a significant majority of our team (65%) will finish in the top 16 of their field or will achieve a seasonal best in Beijing. The Olympic Games plan (including these Criteria, but also training camp and preparation plans) has been developed with these performance objectives in mind. We are going to Beijing 100% ready to compete.
To me, these standards don't provide evidence of a country that is really concerned with Olympic philosophy. In fact, they seem to indicate something toward the opposite. I might even go as far to say that they represent a perverse corruption of the Olympic philosophy. If it doesn't appear you have a reasonable chance of finishing in the top 12, then Athletics Canada isn't particularly interested in seeing you participate in the aforementioned and seemingly important “struggle”.
This lack of logical consistency is irritating to me on two levels. The first is mainly a matter of personal opinion or perspective. If you believe that the Olympics is mainly about participating to the best of your ability, it is irritating to see Canada so obsessed with the importance of winning. The second is simply that it seems quite blatantly hypocritical to say that your organization views the Olympic Movement as being at the core of what you are about, but then behaving in such a way that fundamentally contradicts one of its key values.
I certainly don't want to leave the impression that I don't care how Canada does in international competition, or that setting performance goals is a bad thing. On the contrary, sport and the Olympics are all about bringing out the best in people through competition. Why then, when we have the opportunity, do we choose not to give this opportunity to a few more deserving athletes?