Friday, February 12, 2010

Culture: No Games Here

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I have no intention of writing about anything that happens at the certain games starting with the letter "o" in Vancouver, British Columbia for the next few weeks, even though all of Canada (and in fact the whole world) will be paying attention. I lost respect for the those games, whose name I am not even permitted to use since this is a commentary and not a news story, a long time ago.

While the commercialization of these games has been an issue my entire lifetime, I tried to look the other way until the games started demanding that the CBC, which once had rights for game coverage in Canada, take its programming off the Internet during the event. It couldn't be allowed for people from other countries to perhaps hear about game results from a Canadian audio stream. While the CBC eventually found a way to just take its "o" games and other news reports off the streams and allow unrelated programming (say, the science show "Quirks and Quarks") to go out on the Internet (this was in the days before podcasts when the live stream was the only way to listen), it became very inconvenient to try listen to, and I was resentful that the "o" movement had accomplished something no government had accomplished--censoring public radio.

However, it's even gone beyond that. It isn't just about protecting the sponsorship money that paid for exclusive national coverage of the games, which was bad enough. Now, the games demand that there be no criticism of the games in the host country at all. Journalist Amy Goodman was only allowed limited entry into Canada last December because border agents thought she might be speaking against the games, something she didn't intend to do. Vancouver's poet laureate Brad Cran is not participating in events around the games because he wouldn't sign an agreement to refrain from "any negative or derogatory remarks" about the games, which is now finally receiving media attention. The games appear to be an authoritarian, corporatist movement, rather than being about athletics and world peace.

Why do these restrictions exist? The game movement is funded mostly by broadcast rights fees (which in turn are supported by advertising on the broadcasts) and a program in which corporations pay $50 million to be official sponsors. Those corporations paying for any of this feel they need to have their investment protected, regardless of what it might mean to local laws. It strikes me that governments of democracies with free speech rights should not put up with such restrictions, which probably means that they should not even be bidding.

The purported goals of the "movement" around these games to bring people from across the world together is laudable and worthwhile, and I rather like seeing the world's best athletes compete against one another. So, despite my issues with the games in their current form, I'm not calling for them to disappear. Since corporate sponsorship seems to be the root of the problems with the games, that needs to eliminated. Until 1972, the games did not actively pursue corporate sponsorship.

I think the games should be funded by the United Nations. Part of each nation's UN dues would go to support some reformation of the current governing committee. Perhaps this might even make funding the UN more popular in more conservative circles, though I doubt it. Then, protecting commercial interests and stifling speech would no longer need to be a part of the games, the athletes could compete as they do today, and everyone could be proud of and enjoy the enterprise. Everyone, that is, except for the people looking at the black helicopters filming events from the sky.

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