By Rob Ficiur
Sports can bring a cheer or a grump to fans. This week I am writing about the negative, grumpy, frustrating Summer Olympic Memories. In particular order here they are:
1. 2016 – International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Russian doping scandal – Two weeks before the Rio de Janeiro games the IOC announced they would not suspend Russia. A week earlier a report concluded that there was drug test cheating at the highest level of the Russian Federation during the 2014 Sochi Games. Yes, there was a short time frame to take away Olympic athlete’s dreams. Yes, there would be no time frame available for appeals. Yes, a nationwide ban would punish some clean athletes as well as the unclean. Yes, Russia holds political and economic clout when it comes to the Olympics. However…
The IOC, with firsthand information, could have made a statement. They could have said we are committed to clean drug free sports. With all the data in front of them they chose to pass the buck. Each individual sport can decide who will be banned from Rio or not.
The IOC’s sidestepping the issue says to the world “We want all the big players at the Olympics. And we don’t care if they are using drugs or not.” Years from now we will look back and see how the IOC dropped the ball big time on this.
2. Political Boycotts – The original idea of the Olympics was to have the best amateur athletes in the world compete for their country. For many games, countries used their athletes as ping pongs in ongoing political battles with other nations.
Canada was one of 65 countries to boycott the 1980 summer Olympic games. We were protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1984, thirteen communist bloc countries (including the Soviet Union) boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics because the event was too commercialized. In reality it was their pay back to the USA and others for boycotting the 1980 games. In the 1976, Montreal Olympics 25 African countries boycotted the games because a New Zealand rugby team played in apartheid South Africa.
All these political boycotts did was hurt the Olympics and the potential athletes. The war in Afghanistan went on for a decade in spite of the boycott. South African apartheid eventually was removed, but not because of this boycott. All of these were political moves.
In each case the athletes who would have participated missed that window of opportunity to compete at the highest level. Does an Olympic medal from one of the boycotted games mean as much? Canada won a record 18 gold and 44 total medals at the 1984 LA Olympics. That record stands today, double any other Summer Olympic year. While we honor those who won, there is an asterisk in our minds that those were not really a full Olympic games.
3. Murder in Munich – In 1972 five Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli athletes and kidnapped nine. It was the first in my young naïve life, that I found out that terrorist don’t care who or what they hurt. We hope that security in Brazil will be up to the task in 2016.
4. Ben Johnson – Canada’s hero for a day – My most exciting Olympic memory is watching Ben Johnson win the 1988 100 metre dash. As he ran around the stadium with the Canadian flag draped around him, Big Ben was going to be our next super star hero. A day later his positive drug test was heartbreaking. In the years since, every athlete in that race tested positive for drugs at one time. Only after the Ben Johnson did Canadians know the true extent of drug use in amateur sports. After the Russian news of this year, we are wondering how much has changed?
5. 2012 Women’s Soccer – In the semifinal game against the USA, Canadian goalie Erin Macleod held the ball longer than six seconds. The referee called a indirect fair kick. The Americans tied the game and went on to win. Though the rule is in the book, it is rarely called.
The day after this game, as I was driving through Idaho, the American sportscasters were apologizing to Canada for the terrible call. It is one thing for home town to be offended by the call; it is very rare that the team who won is apologizing.
There are many positive, energizing, unforgettable Summer Olympic moments. Now that I have written the negative, next week’s column will focus on positive Summer Olympic memories.