So much more than sports
What the Olympics mean for China, Hong Kong and the world—and for Canada’s fragile sporting psyche.
“Only in Communist China is being phony considered a ‘national interest,'” spits the National Post‘s Jonathan Kay, reacting to the apparently historic outrage of Beijing faking some fireworks and having a telegenic nine-year-old stand in for a merely mellifluous seven-year-old during the opening ceremonies. Other examples cited by Kay, a noted Olympics-hater: China’s suspiciously petite gymnasts; the “three-metre high ‘culture walls’ … erected in front of shabby neighbourhoods”; and the green paint Beijing plastered on its “dead brown grass” to impress IOC officials enough to even get the Games in the first place.
The Globe and Mail‘s Margaret Wente summarizes our opinion on women’s gymnastics, and Chinese women’s gymnastics in particular, perfectly: “You had to marvel, and to shudder.” How can Western nations possibly compete against the one that produced Cheng Fei, Wente asks, who was born to poverty, “steered … into sports” by her parents, sent away at age seven, never to live with them again, and rebuffed when she begged to be allowed to quit? We “believe sport, even at the Olympic level, is foremost a path to self-fulfillment,” she argues, and perhaps someday in the distant future the Chinese will believe that too. Until then, however, she says “the triumph of Chinese nationalism” will continue to be “built on the backs, the pain, the muscle, the bone and the sinew of flawless little girls.”
The Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham files an intriguing look at the angst the Olympics is creating in Hong Kong, where many fear “the Olympic slogan—one world, one dream—[will] supplant the promise made 11 years ago of one country, two systems.” As Chinese nationalism intensifies, more and more mainland residents move to Hong Kong, Beijing is seen to interfere with the local government and hitherto unknown economic stresses like inflation and wage stagnation take hold, Bramham finds there’s unprecedented fear for citizens’ long-term freedom.
If you haven’t yet read any stories attacking Canada’s Olympic choking act, the Globe‘s Christie Blatchford suggests it may be due to the time difference—i.e., if some bitter hack wanted to file a blistering condemnation by deadline, they might very well be humiliated by a Canadian gold medal by the time Canadians opened their morning paper. Ideally, however, she says it would be because only three “genuine medal prospects” have thus far competed, all falling short, for Canada. “It’s clear some Canadian personal bests aren’t good enough,” she concludes, “but what more can be asked of the athletes who produce them? What more can they do?”
“Is it too early for medal itch and jock angst?” the Toronto Star‘s Rosie DiManno asks. She never really answers the question. But it’s certainly not too early, she notes, for the head of the Canadian diving team to throw Arturo Miranda, Alexandre Despatie’s partner in three-metre synchronized diving, “under the bus.” “We used to have this little joke, that we always hoped Alex felt just a little bit sick,” Mitch Geller tells DiManno—i.e., “to take some of the torque out of his dives and bring him down to a partner’s level.” DiManno, for good measure, resurrects the three-year-old imbroglio over a then-34-year-old Miranda allegedly sleeping with a 15-year-old fellow diver.
Policing the police… poorly
The Montreal Gazette‘s Don MacPherson sees two lessons to be learned from Fredy Villanueva’s shooting death at the hands of Montreal police and the ensuing riot on Sunday: one, that “even if police are abusing their authority, nobody wins an argument against their bullets”; and two, that when it comes to drawing attention to the plight of an underprivileged neighbourhood, “violence works.” He predicts that “we’ll all get tired of talking about Montreal North after Villanueva’s funeral today, unless there’s more burning stuff for us to show on our front pages and newscasts”—and he says local politicians, currently “hunkering down,” know it too.
Just three days into the Sûreté du Québec’s inquiry into the Villanueva shooting, the Gazette‘s Henry Aubin says it has “spectacularly failed” by not yet questioning the officers involved, which gives them plenty of time “to harmonize their versions, to meet with union advisers, to weave an exonerating version of events.” (This is something of a theme in Canadian police investigations, we’d note.) This is not an “oversight,” Aubin argues; it’s not “happenstance”; nobody’s just on vacation. It’s the deliberate neglect of standard police practice—standard, that is, except when it comes to investigating their own, which is precisely why he insists a body similar to Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit needs to be established in Quebec.
The Globe‘s Gary Mason has remarkably similar complaints about the situation in British Columbia, and agrees “Ontario is so far ahead of the rest of the country in this area it’s not funny.” The real model is in Northern Ireland, he argues, where a former RCMP officer now heads up the Police Ombudsman’s office, which has apparently seen tremendous cooperation between police forces and enjoys massive public confidence. Not so for the Mounties he left behind, however, who provide most of B.C.’s policing. They “want nothing to do with true civilian oversight,” says Mason, and there’s little hope of that changing in the near future.
Meet your new MPs
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe gleefully notes that David Orchard has once again set his sights on the nomination in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, the riding into which Stéphane Dion unsuccessfully parachuted Joan Beatty in the March by-election. The “smart money” has Orchard winning it, she says, “based on his singular determination and documented ability to rally support.” And if he managed to win the seat—which would be a first—she’s licking her chops at the thought of the unpredictable opponent of the Afghanistan mission and NAFTA, who has “expresse[d] compassion for Saskatchewan native leader David Ahenakew,” spicing things up a bit in Ottawa.
The Ottawa Citizen‘s Randall Denley looks at the impending fight between David Pratt and John Baird in Ottawa West-Nepean, arguing that constituents “had better hope the winner’s party also forms the government,” lest they be “left in the political wilderness.” Liberals David McGuinty or Mauril Bélanger could replace Baird as “the key political minister for Ottawa,” he argues, but if Baird loses his seat and the Tories remain in government, that title will rest in the dubious hands of the “eccentric” Royal Galipeau, the “crusty” Gordon O’Connor or the execrable Pierre Poilievre. (“Execrable” is our word, not Denley’s, but he’s made his opinions on Canada’s highest-ranking student politician well-known in the past.)
The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington suggests that for all the geopolitical ramifications of Russia’s foray into South Ossetia and Georgia, the primary lesson to be learned here is that “if you go to war, win it. And win it quickly.” Since there’s not a heck of a lot Washington can do about Vladimir Putin’s designs on the Caucasus, he suggests perhaps the “damnfool administration” take the time reflect over its failure to employ a similar get-in-and-get-out strategy in Iraq.
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