Global media ripping Games

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — Jake LaMotta has nothing on Renee Smith-Valade.

Day after day, media conference after agonizing media conference, the director of communications for the Vancouver organization committee (VANOC) has absorbed massive amounts of punishment from the world’s media for the myriad problems plaguing these snake-bitten Games, now being called, by some of the more venomous wags, the “worst ever.”

Some have resorted to referring to Vancouver as Atlanta North, in reference to the astoundingly inept organization of the 1996 Summer Olympics.

The British newspapers, in particular, have been especially vicious in their attacks, ripping VANOC, the IOC and everyone else associated with the Vancouver Games for the seemingly never-ending series of problems.

As Lawrence Donegan of the Guardian wrote: “It is hard to believe anything will surpass the organizational chaos and naked commercial greed of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta or the financial disaster of the 1976 Games, which ­bankrupted Montreal, yet with every passing day the sense of drift and nervousness about the Vancouver Games grows ever more noticeable.”

Further to that, an online headline from the Times of London proclaimed: ‘The Wreckage of a Tarnished Games.’

But each and every day, Smith-Valade had defended VANOC while attempting to put an upbeat spin on a rapidly deteriorating spectacle that had promised to bring so much pride and joy to this part of Canada.

“Everyone has a different perspective, but the perspective that we’re hearing the most is that people appreciate that we’re doing our best, we’re trying our best,” she said. “We didn’t expect for everything to go perfectly smooth and we’re working through the challenges and (we expect) that these will be remembered as a great Games.”

The latest snafu, to use a term that would be kind, was the announcement yesterday that VANOC is refunding an additional 20,000 standing room, general admission tickets for all the remaining freestyle ski events on Cypress Mountain, bringing the total number of refunded tickets to 28,000, meaning lost revenues of close to $1.5 million.

What VANOC needs, and are undoubtedly praying for, is for a few straight days of good news.

These Games started on a tragic note, with the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the Whistler Sliding Centre casting an immediate pall over the proceedings, and the nightmare has continued: from the exhaustive argument over French content, to a near-riot downtown, to technical glitches at Cypress Mountain and the speed skating oval in Richmond, to transportation screw-ups, to the weather problems — the dream of a successful Olympics for Vancouver is increasingly in doubt.

But Smith-Valade is adamant these Games will eventually get on track and will be remembered fondly.

“It’s a little bit like lost luggage,” she said. “It’s not whether your luggage gets lost, it’s how you deal with it. We are dealt the cards we are dealt with, we have done everything we could to put in place the very best plans.

“Sometimes things come up, but the most important thing is being creative, responding quickly and coming up with a solution.”

The IOC is beginning to absorb its share of the heat for what has happened in Vancouver, particularly in terms of the weather, as the question looms: Were they correct in granting a Winter Games to such a moderate part of the world?

The answer will be known in less than two weeks.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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