Mon, September 23, 2013

One writer's Olympic nightmare

Incorrect birthdate leads to epic runaround for Rejean Tremblay

By REJEAN TREMBLAY, QMI Agency

LONDON - I knew it, dammit! I knew it! I had known it since May, when I came to Great Britain to report on Carl Froch and Lucian Bute's boxing match.

The customs officer warned me. Something was off with my London Olympics pass. On my passport, my birth date is the 24th of August. On my pass, it's the 4th.

I warned Denis Poissant, my paper's big boss of sports: "This is going to bite us in the ass, Denis, I can smell it two months in advance," I told him.

He then checked if the mistake could be corrected, but how are you supposed to find your way in the labyrinthine administrations of both Sun Media and the Canadian Olympic Committee?

So, on Thursday, I landed at Heathrow. The customs officer welcomed me with a smile. He checked my documents and his face turned to stone. Standing before him was Bin Laden's blond relative. With a voice full of mystery, he called a colleague who escorted me personally to the airport's accreditation centre.

An older white-haired lady, a younger brunette and an in-between blond started mashing their keyboards. 
"There's a problem with you!" 
"I know. Actually, I've known since May."
"It's quite a big problem."
"It doesn't have to be. You can just replace 04 with 24 and everything's gonna be A-OK. Then you put my pass in your lamination thingy and I'll behave like a good dog."

No way. No lamination for me, no multi-coloured ribbon. As you read this in some Tim Hortons or MacDonald's, you're wondering when laminating your accreditation pass become such an important issue.

You just don't get it. In the Olympics, you start feeling right when you're sporting this medal. Like a dog's collar. Moscow made me understand how important it is. Without it, you do not exist. You won't get into the subway or the train, the media centre's doors are closed to you, you're worse than a stray dog.

So Thursday, I had my accreditation, but it wasn't laminated. I showed it to security everywhere I went, yet they wouldn't see me as the well-trained dog I was. Quite annoying.

I managed to reach the media centre. Where I was sent to an accreditation sub-center. The queues were packed with French people and the air smelled of sweat. No link between those two facts, mind you. Forty-five smelly minutes later, I was facing a manager. I tried the plastic trick, to no avail.

"There's a problem!" 


"I know, I know..." 


He called a higher-up. I was sent to the third floor, to meet a specialist of accreditation errors. I waited in line. I saw a Frenchman receive his laminated card and put it around his neck, transforming into the proverbial well-trained dog. Hope came back to me.

"There is a problem."


"I know. You only have to fix it."

"I can't. We have to investigate you again. In case you're not who you're pretending to be."

Kill me now. This idiot had my passport, my driver's licence, my picture on every document. And I might be someone else?!

He told me I'd get a one-day pass, time enough for the RCMP to confirm that I'm a democratic separatist, but that I wasn't voting for Pauline Marois this time. Ridiculous...

"If you don't have a criminal record, the 24-hour timeframe should be enough."

"And tomorrow, how am I supposed to enter the Olympic Park?"


He gave it a long thought. 
"I can't say, I don't know."


I did not swear. I did not call Marc Tremblay, Quebecor's lawyer, I stayed mum. I knew I had a COC cocktail party at 6:30 in the Canadian Olympic House. I told myself, if somebody asked me to show ID, I would call Marcel Aubut.

I left, went down some floors and walked towards a white tent, where they would give my one-day pass. 
A big bald guy came hurtling in, throwing copious amounts of "stupid" and "dumb" around. He was a Canadian journalist, specialized in cycling: "The birth date is wrong on my accreditation. Some COC idiot didn't know how to write," he said.

My Android rang. I was talking and crossing the street when a panting woman caught up to me. 


"I must get you to security so you can enter the media center. The one-day pass is not recognized by our scanners."


She was smiling. 


"And tomorrow morning, where will you be to help me in?"

"I wouldn't be of any help, the pass is only good for today. I don't know about tomorrow."


I thought about it a lot. No way I was sleeping in the same room as Marcel, he snores. I finally found a solution. 
I was going to the cocktail party, then back to the media center in the late evening. There, I'll just sleep on the chairs near the door. On Friday, upon waking up, I would already be inside.