Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stick to toe loops Elvis.

Former Canadian figure skater Elvis Stojko and current Canadian Olympic paddler Adam Van Koeverden are having a disagreement. Elvis says Canadian Olympic athletes should make a political stand and boycott the Beijing games because of China’s human rights record. Van Koeverden says Stojko should keep his nose out of it. The Olympics are not supposed to be a political event. In fact the point is that in the past, countries which have been at war with each other still sent athletes who competed with honor and resolve on a world stage. Oh ya, those Berlin games had a lot of political meaning, but the athletes still went.

I don’t have a problem at all with Elvis having a point of view and a conviction. But telling other people what to do about his point of view and conviction is a little much. I would much rather hear about what Elvis himself plans to do to make a point about China. Elvis said if he were competing today he would “consider” boycotting. WOW Elvis you are really making a stand here! You can’t even be definitive about a hypothetic? Maybe Elvis will make a strong move to show how much he cares by banning himself from ever using the music from Dragon (the Bruce Lee story) in his routines again? That will teach them!

Funny thing though. Maybe I just missed it, but since it started in 2003 the Cup of China has been on the Grand Prix Figure skating tour and I cant remember Elvis telling Jeffrey Buttle, Joannie Rochette or Emanuel Sandhu to stay home as Canadians of good conscience. See that’s the problem. Once you start telling someone else what their moral code should be, people start looking at yours and nobody can stand up to that scrutiny.

In 1991 Elvis was 6th in the games in Albertville, France and he was 8th in 2002 in Salt Lake. Let’s skip those Olympics and look at the ones where he won something.

Elvis won a silver medal in the Lillehammer Olympics in Norway in 1994. Let’s just think back to some of the things he could have boycotted the games over to make a political statement. War in Sarajevo, massacres in Rwanda, the U.S. sent troops into the Persian Gulf, The Russians attacked the Republic of Chechnya, fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked, Bill Clinton was accused of sexual harassment, Kurt Cobain killed himself, OJ was arrested for allegedly killing his wife and a friend, a MLB players strike and no World Series, Dallas beat Buffalo in the Superbowl, the Rangers beat Vancouver in the Stanley cup and Canadian icon John Candy died. Clearly many, many important things to make a stand over. Elvis went to the games. Guess he didn’t know or care about the other stuff.

In 1998 Elvis went to Nagano, Japan and won a silver medal and I guess he didn’t feel there was anything happening in the world worth making a political statement over. Let’s see what was happening in 1998. There was that Serb/Albanian blood fest in Kosovo, India had 3 atomic bomb tests, Pakistan had 5, Bill Clinton ordered air strikes on Iraq, embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, the Russian economy collapsed, Bill Clinton was accused of doing naughty things in his office, Monica Lewinsky bought a new dress, the Unabomber was sentenced to 4 life sentences, impeachment proceedings began against Clinton and he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, a gay student in Wyoming was beaten to death in a hate crime, Dow Corning Corporation agreed to a $3.2 billion settlement for tens of thousands of women claiming injury from silicone breast implants. Gene Autry, Sonny Bono and Frank Sinatra all died that year. Plenty to protest there for sure.

It’s like going to a nice restaurant for dinner and complaining to the piano player about your meal. He didn’t cook it or serve it. His job is to play the piano. Adam Van Koeverden’s job is to paddle. If Elvis feels this strongly about it call the IOC. I am sure they’d take the call after all he’s a former Olympian. Maybe stage a hunger protest outside the IOC’s offices or…oops…there I go telling someone what to do. Isn’t that rude of me.

How about this for a deal. Politics and making political or moral stands are very personal things. What is right and true for you may be meaningless to someone else. It doesn’t make them a bad person; it just makes them a person who doesn’t care as deeply about that cause as you do. I have a huge problem personally with China’s human rights record, but I am not going to tell someone else what they should do about it.

So why don’t former Olympians refrain from telling current Olympians how to live their lives and what they are supposed to care about. Elvis is currently still skating, acting, singing, and involved in martial arts and dirt biking according to his website. We will all assume none of those activities will occur in China and I am sure Chinese culture will be the poorer for it.

See you at the rink.


Anonymous said...

Olympic boycotts only hurt the
current Olympic athletes.

Anyone with a at least a room temperature IQ knows this.

Joe Fanichi said...

"Nuke the gay whales for Jesus"
Skater Boy

Anonymous said...

Dean, I usually love your writing but this article makes no sense.

First, the Olympics have always been about politics. Olympic boycotts began in 1956 and the vast majority of summer Olympic games since then have been boycotted by at least one country - many for far more trivial reasons than human rights abuses by the host country. Even the 76 Olympics in Montreal were famously boycotted by 26 African countries who were outraged that New Zealand was not banned for playing rugby with the apartheid state of South Africa. If New Zealands crime of playing rugby merits a boycott, then China's record of human-rights abuses over the last half-century certainly does as well.

You mention that no boycott occurred during the '36 Berlin Olympics - first, this was before boycotts became fashionable in '56 and it was also long before the war started (remember the Western countries were very much following a policy of appeasing Germany at the time). Still it was hugely political - the most famous event being Hitlers refusal to shake Jessie Owens hand.

Yet another example - Munich 1976. Again no boycotts but we all know what a devastating effect politics had on the games that year.

We could go right back to the start of the modern Olympics. They have always been used as a stage to make political statements.

Second, to suggest that Elvis should keep his politics to himself just because you don't agree with him is nonsense. Politics are by definition public, especially in a democratic country. Political opinions are intended to be debated publicly. Elvis is free to express his opinion as much as anyone else.

And whether it be right or wrong, even if you disagree with him, he has a strong argument.

Since the communists won the civil war in China in 1950 they have been one of the most oppressive regimes in history. They have been unrivaled at politically motivated executions, oppression and detention of dissidents, suppression of the media, censorship, support for other repressive regimes in Sudan, Burma, North Korea, the list goes on and on and on.

For you to suggest that Monica Lewinsky and the NYR winning the cup are in any way comparable is insulting to the memories of the millions who have suffered due to the communist oppression.

Now, you may argue that Olympic boycotts are ineffective, harming only the athletes who are prevented from competing. You may be right.

On the other hand Beijing have gone to great lengths to ensure that the games be a smashing success to showcase their position on the world stage (politics rears it's head again). A boycott would be a huge embarrassment to them and perhaps would convey the message that their actions are not acceptable to us.

Personally, I think China has improved tremendously, even in the last 10 years, to say nothing of the Mao era. They obviously still have a long way to go but at least are showing signs of becoming more progressive. I don't think there should be a boycott. On the other hand there's a strong enough case to be made in support of a boycott that I would never consider telling someone to keep their opinions on the matter to themselves.