Olympic torch decision fraught with politics

Favoritism, media muscle flexing, and the buddy system hard at work

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VANCOUVER - Should Wayne Gretzky wind up as the final bearer of the torch at the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics, it will be against the better wishes of the Federal Government.

That, by itself, is indication enough of just how political the process has been on the way to Fridayís grand show at BC Place.

A report written by the Department of Canadian Heritage has urged the Vancouver Organizing Committee to have an ďaboriginal CanadianĒ light the historic Olympic cauldron, just as was done by Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney.

The heritage ministry, for the record, pumped $25 million into the Olympic torch relay and another $20 million into the Opening Ceremony, making them the single largest contributor to both situations.

The government report, written in 2006, delivered to the Vancouver Organizing Committee and obtained by Sun Media, went on recommend that past Canadian aboriginal Olympians such as Alwyn Morris and cross country skiers, Sharon and Shirley Firth, should be seriously considered to light the famous flame.

This, of course, is hogwash, but it is pure Canadian political big money hogwash. This is what we do, and too often how we do it. And all of that was evident as the Olympic torch made its way across Canada, compelling and emotional as it was, it was fraught with political favoritism, media muscle flexing, and the buddy system hard at work all the while ignorning Canadian Olympic history while failing to recognize so many major contributors to sport in this country.

This is how Arnold Schwartzenegger, celebrity buddy of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, and admitted steroid user, got to carry the torch while Olympic gold medal winner Kerrin Lee-Gartner did not.

This is how Ben Mulroney got to carry the torch but double gold medal winner Donovan Bailey was never asked.

This is how the government would like nothing better to have some unknown to light the torch - all in the name of Canadian political correctness - snubbing the most famous athlete in Canadian history.

Hopefully, government will have made their Olympic contribution but not influenced the decisions of VANOC. VANOC, having messed up themselves on Bailey, Lee-Gartner and some other accomplished Olympians along the way, has something to make up for here.

That will be determined Friday night. And indications yesterday were that Gretzky will have some kind of involvement in the emotional moment that officially begins the 2010 Olympic Games - but weíre not certain what that involvement was.

Gretzky appeared at a promotion for Samsung on Wednesday and was supposed to address the media at that time. However, after doing his corporate spiel, he did what he has rarely been known for: He bailed without saying a word.

That could mean one or two things. One, heís the guy and he didnít want to have to deny it publicly. Two, heís not the guy and he didnít want to have to talk about the potential difficulty of that.

Gretzky, the greatest hockey player in a pure hockey nation, is no aboriginal. The fact is, there is no Cathy Freeman equivalent in Canada. Her lighting of the torch was magic just below that of the emergence of Muhammad Ali at the Opening Ceremony in Atlanta.

There could be more of that magic Friday night. It is so very possible. But hopefully there will be a place to display the greatest of Canadian athletes. A stage for Steve Nash. A place for Gretzky. And they canít make up for what they missed with Bailey and Lee-Gartner, each of whom won the signature events at their Games.

ďOnce the cauldron is lit, itís not about the person anymore,Ē said Lee-Gartner. ďItís about the cauldron, Itís about the Olympics. Thatís bigger than all of us.Ē


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