French flap drags on

By BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER -- Monday was Quebec Day at the 2010 Winter Olympics and the day after Montreal moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau won Canada’s historic first home Olympic gold medal.

But VANOC remained on the defensive after Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore’s weekend comments criticizing the lack of French language and culture in the Games’ opening ceremony.

“VANOC has worked tirelessly to represent bilingual Canada every level, every venue, every facility,” CEO John Furlong said. “We have assembled here in Vancouver thousands of volunteers from French Canada.”

Frank King, who presided over the Calgary 1988 organizing committee, said VANOC is making a good effort to recognize both official languages of Canada and the Olympics.

“You can never do it perfectly,” King said. “There is always somebody that would say it’s not quite enough. It’s the effort that counts.”

Last September, Moore made a surprise $7.2 million grant to VANOC for more French documents and signage, the same day official languages commissioner Graham Fraser slammed VANOC and the federal government. Fraser said they were running out of time to add more French signage and services to airports and Olympic venues. VANOC spent some of the money on a bilingual sign for the Richmond Olympic Oval, which opened with an English sign. The federal government also paid $20 million for the opening ceremony, which included substantial aboriginal themes.

The chef de mission for the Canadian Olympic team told QMI that the amount of French content in the opening ceremony was adequate.

“I thought the opening ceremony was amazing and truly everything was translated also in the stadium for the people that are sitting that are sitting there that maybe didn’t understand what was happening in English,” Nathalie Lambert said. “This was a global show and we truly made an effort to make it bilingual.”

Lambert said the athletes’ and officials’ oaths are normally delivered in English “the language of choice for the Olympics.” But on Friday, short-track speedskating referee Michel Verrault of Lac-Beauport, Que., made his oath in French.

Lambert said services in both languages are available at all venues and both villages for athletes, even though not all volunteers are bilingual.

Meanwhile, Charest used the spotlight to promote a study into a potential Quebec City bid for the 2022. He called the capital “one of the best cities in the world, a city made to measure to host a Winter Games.”

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