Put on your best party dress, Vancouver

Let’s be clear and open – I support the Olympics. There, I’ve said it. Before you start the hate mail, hear me out. As someone who is focusing on poverty and development, I understand the “Healthcare before Olympics” debate. I completely sympathize with the plight of the Downtown East Side, am somewhat appalled by the city’s endeavour to mitigate the bruising it will receive from the world’s media by “gently” forcing homeless into shelters on cold nights, and I’m quite disturbed by the provincial government legislating a “deal” against its striking paramedics. But the question I have been asking ever since Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics is, “what if Vancouver never got the games in the first place? What would be different?”

My answer is that nothing would be different. The Olympics are not a travesty that serves to derail any progress against homelessness and poverty, nor are they a panacea to spring this province out of economic misfortune. They are simply a celebration of sport, competition and human spirit.

I am not an athlete. I do not train my body and mind in grueling fashion on a daily basis. One hundredth of a second means very little to me. What means a lot to me, though, is Canada, and why I favour the Olympics is for what the games can do for Canada. It’s time to put your apathy in the back pocket of your Rock & Republics, Vancouver, the games belong to Canada too.

Recently I had a chance to talk to someone, a stranger, who participated in the Olympic Torch Run. She was in her mid to late 50s and seemed quite fit. Her 300 metre run was on Vancouver Island, just outside of Courtenay. As I handled and fiddled with the torch she brought to show her friends, I asked her the generic question she had probably heard twenty times already – “What was it like?”

“You know, ” she said, pausing to gather the right words, “I just felt so proud to be Canadian. I have never felt so proud to live in this country.” And that is when the spirit of what these games mean hit me. It’s about being Canadian, about belonging to something.

This past summer I briefly got to know four unique individuals, connected with the games: one was from New Zealand, one from Texas, one from Arizona and one from Wyoming. Each was working on a different logistical project for the games, and between them they had 22 summer and winter games under their belts. One of the things that struck me in our conversation was that to them, Vancouver was the perfect city. They had been here for just over a month and were already in love with it. One thing that stood out to them was how little hype there was around the impending games. I told them all about the plebiscite, and the controversies surrounding the games, and they just shrugged it off. The Texan, in true Texan fashion, looked me dead in the eye and cupped his belt buckle. With a slight tilt of the head and a squint in one eye, he said, “Son, this city has no idea how big these games will be. As soon as that cauldron is lit, your city will become the prettiest girl at the dance.”

I take these two firsthand experiences to heart. I occasionally catch updates of the torch relay on television and am amazed by the spirit of people in small remote communities who come out to support the run where the mercury has dropped well into double digits. I wonder why they care about an event that will take place thousands of kilometers away. Wait a minute, they’re Canadians too. That’s right, it’s about Canada. It’s about Canadians trying to kick the rest of the world’s asses at events that we are actually good at. And this time we have home field advantage. That is why the rest of Canada cares, because we have a common thread to bring us closer together.

The 2010 Olympics are truly our time to be the prettiest girl at the dance. Yes, we might have a few zits, and may walk a bit funny in heels, but the world is lining up to dance with us, and if we never had the Olympics, it might just be another Friday night out in the same old bar with the same old apathetic Rock & Republic-wearing jerks.   

//Paul Garbini


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