Saturday, February 13, 2010

BONE THE PODIUM

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Okay, so the Vancouver Winter Olympics hasn’t had such a smooth start. First, a terrible tragedy on the Luge run brought home the realization that the national and corporate shillfest had an all too fragile human component.

A few hours later, the opening ceremonies glitched. But then, as LA comic Thomas Lennon observed, “Who among us hasn't been three-quarters erect at an awkward moment?”

And what had been a mostly respectable spectacle, as measured on the Olympic cheese scale, was followed by the bizarre recreation of one of those scenes from “When We Were Kings” as our own version of Muhammad Ali rode through the Third World streets of Downtown Vancouver in an open truck waving to the crowds of some frenzied underclass chasing after him as he went to light another afterthought of a cauldron.

It wasn’t The Great One’s greatest moment and some of those Torch Run sponsors have got to be wondering who was running this show.

It’ll be information they won’t get from the Consortium broadcasting the games, a drunk-on-the-Kool-Aid group so caught off guard by the violent death of Georgian Slider Nodar Kumaritashvili that they just decided to mostly smile bigger and not mention it.

And while Consortium radio voice Bob McCown called the lack of professionalism “disgusting”, among other things other parts of his consortium can’t or won’t print, most of the talking heads stuck to the BellGlobemedia self-congratulatory script.

By late last night,TSN host Darren Drager was tweeting from the Opening Ceremony after party that Bryan Adams dedicating “Straight From the Heart” to the deceased athlete from the show stage had been a “nice touch”.

So I guess we’re all good and ready to get back to the party.

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Don’t get me wrong, by the time the next two weeks are over, the athletes of the 21st Winter Olympics will have reminded us all of what these games are really about. Even the ones who don’t come anywhere near winning a medal will have exhibited the uplifting power of the human spirit.

Sadly, their character and commitment to excellence just isn’t reflected by most of those bringing us the Games.

And for the folks in front of the new HDTV, anxiously rubbing their 2010 Olympic Mittens in anticipation ($10.99 now $1.99 after the Games), I’m sure Canada’s athletes will do us proud and claim more than a fair share of the neck hardware.

What most of those mitten wearers won’t know, however, is that like the Canadian artists they seldom see on CTV and Rogers, our Olympic athletes aren’t just struggling to beat the rest of the world, they’re being handcuffed in their efforts by the CRTC.

That’s right, while one branch of our Government has launched the much vaunted “Own The Podium” campaign to make sure our skiers, skaters and biathletes get the financial support they need; another branch, the CRTC, has been working just as hard to undermine those goals.

And I mean “working hard” in the usual endless dithering and being indecisive CRTC tradition.

Let’s call it “Bone the Podium”.

As we all know, like artists trying to make a movie or TV series in Canada, it’s hard for somebody with an Olympic dream to find the money to make that dream come true. Training is expensive. Few can hold down a regular job and still find time for the gruelling hours of practice needed to reach a world class level.

Once an athlete obtains a certain notoriety, sponsors can be found to be sure. But even then, those sponsors need to see a return on their investment.

In a recent interview, Jan Hudec, acknowledged as a lock to win Downhill skiing gold for Canada until a fall knocked him out of the Games said, “Sponsorship contracts are based on performance. When you're injured, your points are frozen and your ranking gets worse. The biggest struggle is not going into the red.''

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Obviously programs like “Own The Podium” help athletes like Hudek with the basics. Much like Arts grants and subsidies can help us. But there could have been so much more available to our Olympians, maybe even enough that a cash strapped government didn’t have to use taxpayer cash for “Bread and Circuses” in the first place.

You see, in 2007, around the time “Own the Podium” was kicking into high gear, a group of private investors working with the Canadian Olympic Committee proposed two 24 hour sports networks (one English and one French) to the CRTC which would donate $30 Million a year to support amateur athletes.

Three years later and after spending an additional $1 Million to move their proposal along, they have yet to learn if they will even get a hearing from the CRTC.

The CRTC says they can’t deal with this request because they’re in the middle of a broad review of Canadian television. In fact, they can’t even guess when they might be ready to hear the application.

Meanwhile, they somehow found time to grant licenses to two new American sports channels now broadcasting here as well as demanding cable companies and their customers pay for the local news our broadcasters would rather replace with gossip magazine shows.

It’s yet another example of a dysfunctional regulator who, after more than a year of admitting it screwed up and destroyed the Canadian dramatic TV industry with its disastrous 1999 rulings, still hasn’t turned around and fixed those rules. 

The same guys the Federal Government had to overrule to finally get some competition into our antiquated mobile phone system and who haven’t made a decision on “carriage fees” despite three separate sets of multi-week hearings over three years, continue to use their bureaucratic muscle to prevent our athletes from getting the kind of money they deserve.

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Canadian artists, television viewers, mobile phone users and internet addicts long ago became aware that the CRTC isn’t their friend. And now our athletes are discovering the same truth.

While those CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein refers to as “the right people”, those he chooses to meet with in-camera and whose advice he refuses to share with the public he’s mandated to serve, will make out like gangbusters at the 2010 Olympics, our athletes aren’t sure how they’ll make it to 2012, 2016 and beyond.

To quote Jane Roos of the Canadian Athletes Now Fund, "So many people are making a shitload of money at the Games, but the athletes will leave them in debt."

Kind of how we Canadian Arts types feel, isn’t it?

As you watch the next two weeks of Olympic Glory, try to see past the ham-fisted self-aggrandizing coverage of CTV, TSN and Rogers (hopefully it’ll soon start getting to them too) and enjoy the personal triumphs of our athletes whatever they may be. Know their struggles are shared by every Artist in this country and we all have the same regulatory enemy keeping us from delivering the level of sport and entertainment you deserve.

Imagine how much better off we’d all be if the bloated CRTC bureaucracy were finally dismissed en mass. Yeah, it might be a little “Wild West” for a time, but at least we wouldn’t have somebody holding us down before we even get a chance to fail and it might be a whole easier to get up, brush off the snow and get back in the game when we do.

Canadians have always been better than those who run our lives and orchestrate the Circuses. Hopefully, we’ll soon get one more of the hurdles out of our way.

2 comments:

Howard said...

Great blog...you are absolutely right on all counts. We live in a country where fewer and fewer people own all the means of production and transmission. The Rogers' and the Shaws will soon own everything. (they already own the CRTC)

jimhenshaw said...

Thank you, Howard. A compliment from somebody with your knowledge and experience is truly humbling.

Do you think I have a future as a cub reporter?