September 10, 2011
A tale of two leaders
By John Short, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - The best and worst of Canadian international sport bubbled to the surface last week, and only one day apart.
No sooner was there cause to regret that Alex Baumann has resigned from Canada’s productive Own The Podium initiative but there was reason to celebrate the decision by Leo Rautins to resign as the nation’s national men’s basketball coach.
Both men had outstanding competitive careers.
Baumann, 47, captured a pair of swim golds in the 1984 Olympics at Los Angeles. Rautins, 51, impressed the Philadelphia 76ers with his outstanding university career at Syracuse and became the first-ever Canadian selected in the opening round of the NBA draft.
Both are driven and can be incredibly charming.
Too bad, but the similarities end right there.
Baumann was incredibly successful in his requirement that Canadian athletes, riding the aid he demanded from corporate and government benefactors, seek championships -— not just the sort of handshakes reserved for smiling and sweaty also-rans — at the Vancouver Olympics.
By comparison, Rautins contributed to a steady run of international failure. A stunning example was the loss to Panama (?) in Canada’s last remote chance to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.
Baumann does not deserve all the credit, of course. A guy named John Furlong was equally remarkable in his ability to keep athletes and the rest of the nation focused on the important job of winning.
Rautins, likewise, is entitled to share the blame. For far too long, Canadian basketball has operated under a cloud of inefficiency, created by officials far too willing to blame the absence of heavy financial support for their failures.
Why did these so-called leaders not launch a spirited and intelligent fund-raising program? Probably because they didn’t understand the true meaning of those words.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the levels of failure in so many other international sports — soccer and baseball and volleyball and, well, you name it — are as dismal as in basketball.
Unless we had the 2010 Olympic success in recent memory, it would be easy to believe that Canadians don’t know to compete on the world stage.
Or, worse, that we don’t care.
It scares me to realize how many Canadians are using a major problem — growing obesity among young and old — as an opportunity to lower our commitment to high-level sports performance.
Growing numbers believe kids can simply be instructed or encouraged to run and jump and play vigorous games. It’s a noble sentiment but it’s entirely wrong.
Former national basketball coach Jack Donahue used to insist: “Everyone is a role model to somebody.”
The truth of his statement is glaringly evident.
We need top athletes in major competitions to inspire our youngsters. We need corporate and government support at all levels, just as Baumann and Furlong demonstrated.
We need the return of physical education to a respected position in the elementary school curriculum.
And we need sports administrators to stop hanging out that old “Poor Me” flag.
As Baumann returns to his extended family on the other side of the world, we’re fortunate that Furlong, and his dramatic ability, is still a prominent part of Own The Podium.
Who should replace Rautins? Until Canada Basketball starts to work for change — demand change, inspire change — it makes no difference.