Point/counterpoint: Is all that glistens gold?

By QMI Agency

The 2010 Winter Olympics kick off ó inside, under the B.C. Place dome ó on Friday in Vancouver.

Should we be pumped and grab our pom-poms to cheer on our athletes, or has corporate greed and influence taken the goodness out of the Games? Columnists Paul Berton and Lorrie Goldstein take the debate swifter, higher, stronger.

BERTON: If the Olympics are supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy, why do I feel so, well, cold and dirty?

GOLDSTEIN: Because youíre a cynic and spoilsport who wants to suck all the fun out of life?

BERTON: Fun? Perhaps. But what you really mean is money, donít you?

GOLDSTEIN: Granted, the Olympics waste money. Governments waste money. But at least the Olympics give us a great show.

BERTON: Never mind money wasted by governments. Itís the stuff spent by businesses Iím talking about. Itís a show all right, a capitalist love-in, awash in sponsorships and tightly controlled by corporations. I know itís an old complaint, but itís getting more distasteful with every Olympics.

GOLDSTEIN: Granted, but the Olympics also gave us Cindy Klassen, Clara Hughes and Hayley Wickenheiser. Could you ask for better role models for our young people?

BERTON: Absolutely. I love a hero as much as the next Canadian and I thank them. Heaven knows we need them. But the Olympics also gave us Ben Johnson, Tonya Harding, Marion Jones and dozens of others. And they were only those unfortunate enough to get caught.

GOLDSTEIN: The 1988 Seoul Games that saw the Johnson scandal also saw Canadian sailor Lawence Lemieux willingly forfeit at least a silver medal when he broke off course to save two other racers who otherwise might have drowned. Only the Olympics have moments like that.

BERTON: Sure, thereís lots of heroism, drama, the triumph of victory, the agony of defeat and all that. But the bad sports? Maybe there are so many because the International Olympic Committee itself sets such a bad example. Never mind it seems so focused on money and marketing. For an organization that says ethics is central to its mission, the IOC is mired in scandal far too often. The 2002 Winter Games in Utah were particularly nasty, with IOC members being expelled for corruption, bribery and fraud; and the pairs figure skating competition marred by admissions of collusion among the judges. Yikes!

GOLDSTEIN: In 2002, Beckie Scott won Canadaís first-ever medal in cross-country skiing, bronze, in an unforgettable photo finish, then fearlessly denounced drug use in her sport, for which she was unfairly attacked by the Olympic establishment. In 2004, she was awarded the gold after the top two finishers in her race were disqualified for drug use. Donít end the Olympics. Put people like her in charge of them.

BERTON: Thatís a heck of an idea, but I wonder if itís too late for that? Can anyone really change the fact itís all about money, not athletics and excellence?

GOLDSTEIN: Put it this way. If Nelson Mandela can become president of South Africa and end apartheid and if peace can be achieved in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants then yes, I think we can fix the Olympics.

BERTON: Well then, the first thing we should do is remind everyone ó the IOC, the sponsors, the athletes, and the fans ó that it shouldnít be about politics and tourism and money and winning, but about excellence and the human spirit. Thatís going to be a tall order.

GOLDSTEIN: Agreed, but thereís also an opportunity here. This is the first Olympics after the global economic meltdown ó an ideal time, given the public mood around the world, to move against Olympic excess, greed and corruption, in all its forms, and push for the restoration of the ideals youíre talking about.

BERTON: Well, it would be nice to think it would be possible, but I wonder if itís like hoping for real and true reform of the financial industry. Hereís hoping.

GOLDSTEIN: We should hand over the running of the Games to present and former athletes like the ones Iíve cited above. At best, theyíd get the Games right. At worst, theyíd do a way better job than the Olympic poobahs running it now. Anyway: ďGo Canada Go!Ē

POLL