Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wednesday's Words for February 17, 2010

Growing up in Canada, I’m old enough to remember the great Flag debate of 1964-1965. For those of you who don’t know, up until then, our flag was the Union Jack. Now you’re all saying....hmmm....why does that name sound familiar?

The Union Jack is the flag of Great Britain. We have always been the shy, insecure child who did not want to let go of our parent’s apron strings. Our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, is quoted as having said, “A British subject I was born, and a British subject I shall die.” That was during the negotiation of the British North America act of 1867 which created the Dominion of Canada. Whose Dominion? Why, the Queen’s, of course.

Then came the Statutes of Westminster, 1931, at which point Canada’s legislature was granted independence from Britain’s. Ha, you thought we were a free and independent nation in 1867, but no, it didn’t happen until 1931.

By the way, my mother adopted Sir John A’s sentiment as her own and darn near clobbered my brother for daring to put a red and white Maple Leaf flag on the family car back in 1964. Mother was very disappointed to lose the Union Jack (when Parliament adopted the Maple Leaf on February 15, 1965) and the Canadian Ensign (an Ensign is less than an official flag – sort of like one of those team banners on Survivor).

Hell of a long time to wait to take our first steps, wasn’t it? We began to run in 1982, when we repatriated our Constitution from Great Britain. But to this day, (as any of you may have noticed if you watched the opening of the Olympics) we have a Governor General who is the official head of state. She is vice-regal, meaning, she represents the Queen. So we may be walking and running, but it feels as if we’re tethered. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Royal. God Bless The Queen.

You’re probably all wondering where I am going with this history lesson.

Well my point is that all of my life, I’ve been very aware of Canada’s “national character” and that character is of a younger sibling not quite sure of itself or its place in the world. Feeling as if it’s never quite good enough. In other words, we the people of this nation have always had an inferiority complex. We have always been your shy, quiet neighbor to the north, the neighbor whose patriotism always came out at the decibel level of a whisper.

To a certain extent, we’re still like that. So when the 2010 Olympics were yet months away, an ad campaign began [with the key line: Do You Believe?] to try and stir Canadians’ hearts to the point that we would not only actually yell and scream and wave our flags, but maybe believe that we deserved to stand with the best in the world.

In addition, in 2005, an actual technical program called “Own the Podium” was created with the purpose to prepare athletes and coaches with the best technical knowledge, leadership, and training with the goal of achieving prominence in the winter Olympics of 2010 (a worthy goal since in the previous two Olympics held in our nation no Canadian athlete won a single gold medal). This was not a “secret plan” as I remember hearing about it on television during the coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Why shouldn’t a nation invest itself in its young people, teach them that it’s okay to strive for excellence, to want to win? And yet everyone from Stephen Colbert to the British tabloids are heaping invectives upon my country over that program and these Olympics.

There is no question, the horrific accident on the luge track last week in which an athlete from Georgia, Nodar Kumaritashvili, lost his life was beyond tragic. No one expected such a thing to happen at such a joyous celebration as the Olympics, and yet many of the sports I see represented here can be very dangerous. Sports fans everywhere mourned the death of so young a man who had come only to do his best, and well they should. Obviously, the accident needs to be investigated, and the decision to move the starting point on the track to below the sharp curve that created such high speeds was the right decision to make.

Perhaps recommendations will come that will improve the safety of a sport which to me looks insanely dangerous to begin with. This is good, and necessary. This is what we, as a civilized people, need to do, so that tragedies need not be repeated.

I’m not certain it’s fair to blame an entire nation, to insinuate that with one mind we sought to harm this young man. “Own the Podium” is not—despite what some of the media would have you believe—synonymous with “win at any cost”.

We may dare to seek to stand taller, but we are still Canadians.


No comments: