Canada, Standing On Guard for Thee

I read an interesting New York Times article today about VANOC and the Canadian government’s resolve to “Own the Podium.”

It seems that Canada is not playing nice with other nations in regard to the use of Vancouver 2010 facilities for practice runs and training. John Branch reports that the status quo for many sports that have structured runs (luge, skiing, bobsled) is that every nation may practice on those runs prior to the Games. Although VANOC officials are allowing competing nations small amounts of practice time, it is nowhere near the norm for what is expected from the host nation in Olympic preparation. And what’s more is that the Canadian government and the VANOC organizers recognize this fact. It is all part of the Own the Podium plan to help Canada reach its goal of 35 medals. It is “home-field advantage,” as they say.

Foreign nations are not happy. But, is Canada wrong to exercise its home-field advantage?

I’m on the fence about the subject.

Hockey teams in the NHL get to learn the bounces of their home rinks and take advantage of those. What’s the difference here? If it is your home, you’re going to know it better. Intimate knowledge of a playing surface/building is definitely an advantage, so why give that away? Because it isn’t fair? Maybe? But then shouldn’t the Olympics always be held at a neutral site that no one sees until the event happens? It’s assumed when a nation gets its day in the Olympic-hosting sun, that they are going to win some medals — and familiarity with the playing space is a part of that whole deal.

But, at the same time, to go against time honoured traditions seems cheap. It seems to go against the Olympic spirit, in a way. The “gentlemen’s agreements” made over practice runs for Olympic preparation have been upheld for a long time, and while not written in stone, I see this conflict opening up a whole pile of problems for Canada in international circles, sporting and otherwise, down the road. These are the Olympics, lets not forget. Nations take this seriously, and a snub now could have consequences that reverberate for years to come.

I also think that the policy Canada/VANOC has adopted puts our athletes at a disadvantage. They will be considered with scorn by their competitors, which may mar the otherwise great medal haul we could win. Not only that, the stance we have taken undermines the talent of the Canadian athlete. The message being sent to the world is that our athletes need this advantage.

Then again, in a world where winning is becoming increasingly difficult and all athletes are looking for that extra edge, maybe the home field is the ultimate competitive advantage?



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