OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK

Sydney 2000

Revitalized for the Olympic Games?
Revitalized for the Olympic Games?
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of the Waterfront Revitalization Project

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Canada usually finishes in the same company as Bulgaria, Kenya, or Hungary in the final medal tally at the summer Olympic Games, so our national team’s presence at the quadrennial celebration of sport is rarely more than a peripheral blip on the radar screen.

The last two weeks have been different, though. With the opening ceremonies in Sydney just three days away, Canada has found itself front and centre in the media for all the wrong reasons.

Last week, equestrian rider Eric Lamaze of Schomberg, Ontario, two-time Spruce Meadows National champion and bronze medalist at last year’s Pan-American Games, tested positive for cocaine use and was issued a lifetime ban by the Canadian Equestrian Federation. That same governing body had issued Lamaze a four-year ban just prior to the Atlanta Oympics in 1996, which was later reduced to a seven month ban when Lamaze convinced the board that his drug use was purely recreational, and not a means to procure a competitive edge.

Then this past Friday, Edmonton hammer-thrower Robin Lyons became embroiled in a similar scandal. A realistic medal hopeful for Canada in the event, Lyons was suspended by the Canadian Centre for Ethics after a doping test at the Canadian Olympic trials in August revealed notable levels — 18 times the average amount the body produces naturally — of the anabolic steroid norandrosterone in her urine. Her appeal to the board was thrown out, and another pending with an independent arbitrator will likely meet the same fate.

Lamaze and Lyons are just two more in a long line of Canadians embarrassed by failing doping tests in the international arena. Ben Johnson lost his Olympic Gold at Seoul in 1988 (and his world record from the world championships in Rome the year before) for testing positive for the anabolic steroid stanzolol. Last year Steve Vezina, goalie of the roller hockey team that won gold at the Pan-Am games in Winnipeg, tested positive for nandrolone and the team was stripped of its victory. Rower Silken Laumann mistakenly took an over-the-counter cold remedy that contained a banned stimulant at the Pan-Am Games in 1995.

The IOC, whose track record on the doping issue is less than exemplary, is investigating methods of cracking down on doping at Sydney, for fear that a nasty drug scandal will be Sydney’s only reference point in Olympic history.

It was announced last week by the International Olympic Commission at a conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, that Toronto was among five finalist cities in the bidding to host the 2008 Olympic Games. The vote of confidence from the IOC is not that convincing. Of the five remaining candidates — Beijing, Paris, Osaka, and Istanbul are the others — and the five hopefuls ousted from the running at Lausanne — Bangkok, Cairo, Seville, Havana, and Kuala Lumpur — Toronto represents nothing more than a clean, North American safety net for the voting commission.

After all, of the five finalists, Toronto appears to have the most squeaky-clean proposal, the doping busts of Lamaze and Lyons notwithstanding. But the IOC is traditionally aloof to these missteps, so that should not work against Toronto’s bid. The stricter rules of campaigning will also prevent the impressionable members of the commission from being swayed by gifts of airfare and hard currency that earned Salt Lake City the 2002 Winter Games. Each city will only be given a single room on the 7th floor of the Regent Hotel in Toronto to present their final pitch.

The other four contenders have obstacles in their way.

Paris’s financing plans are unclear, and Istanbul’s urban infrastructure is not yet developed enough to play host to the world. Both cities also suffer from their proximity to the 2004 Summer Games host, Athens, and this will work against them.

Osaka’s bid at first glance appears to be ideal. It is enivronmentally and, above all, financially sound, but Japan hosted the winter games in Nagano in 1998. The IOC will hesitate to book a return engagement on the opulent archipelago so soon, knowing that their motives are already in question.

Beijing, as the largest metropolis in the world, is long overdue to host an Olympic Games. A winning bid there would likely prompt a much-needed opening of the economy. However, the urban congestion of the city makes Beijing a hit-or-miss choice, while human rights groups will decry a victorious Beijing bid. Its branding of Christian sects as evil cults and arrest of several prominent religious leaders will not sit well with a host of western countries.

This leaves Toronto, with less than a year to prove itself a worthy host.

The IOC will announce the winner July 17 of 2001.

In the early 1990s, during the bidding wars for the 1996 Olympics which Atlanta ultimately won, Toronto was an early favorite that faltered down the stretch when city councillors got cold feet. While the city did end up supporting the bid, it was by a less than decisive 12-5 margin. The people of Atlanta, on the other hand, emphatically and unanimously supported the bid.

Evidence of failure is everywhere, and for Toronto, it sits just five hours up the highway. Montreal’s poorly planned bid made the 1976 Olympic Games a financial disaster, and 25 years later there are no signs of economic stimulation that an Olympic Games is expected to bring a city. Montreal’s east end is rundown and decrepid, with Olympic Stadium the most notably and gaudy eyesore of its legacy.

While Toronto can advertise its multiculturalism as a selling point to the world, the issue still needs to be internally addressed.

Toronto’s bid has received the backing of the First Nations Chiefs, who wish to be fully involved in the process. But outside organizations like the Adams Mine Intervention Coalition in Kirkland Lake — a garbage site for the megacity — and the Breads not Circuses Coalition — who fear the $2.6 billion dollar budget for staging the Games, and synonymous $12 billion dollar Waterfront Revitalization Project are merely a means to a short-term end — are intent on quashing the bid.

Perhaps they foresee the same fate that befell Montreal to hit Toronto. The project, which will make the waterfront more accessible to commuters and more attractive to tourists, is being pushed through city council in hopes that the plan will be approved on all points by the time the IOC makes their decision. Project officials insist the waterfront plan will go through whether or not Toronto wins the 2008 Games bid, but the two are dependent on each other.

Toronto needs the new waterfront to get the Games, and the promise of the Games to finance the waterfront. The city must be willing to embrace the world, if it wants to give its shores a facelift.

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