Give the athletes the podium

Patrick Butler
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It’s always more fun to watch the game when there’s someone to root for.
As a Habs fan, tuning in to see Montreal face Toronto for Saturday night hockey will always trump a matchup between the Coyotes and the Islanders. The stakes are infinitely higher. (It helps that my dad is a Leafs fan, too.)

I guess it is true of anything, really, but when there is that personal connection, whatever is happening on the other end the TV set matters a hell of a lot more.

I’m not an avid follower of most Olympic sports, least of all figure skating, but when I heard Kaetlyn Osmond had made the Canadian figure skating team for Sochi, the same sort of interest kicked in.

A Newfoundland native going for Olympic gold, now that’s something worth watching.

You can bet that by the time she hits the ice in Sochi, Osmond will be the province’s fixation.

No, it won’t just be Nan in Marystown watching the women’s figure skating come this February.

Every four years, after competing in near obscurity for the past three, athletes in disciplines from bobsleigh to biathlon are thrust into the international limelight for the Olympics.

All of a sudden, their relatively niche sporting events become high-profile, audience-garnering competitions.

Osmond is a case in point. When Sochi rolls around, people with no prior knowledge of figure skating will be glued to their televisions.

I know I will be.

The Olympics draw an inconceivably huge viewing audience because there is near-universal appeal to the Games. There is an athlete and a team for everyone to cheer on.

The Games are everything that is great about sports: more than two weeks of triumph in the face of adversity, come-from-behind underdog victories and last-second Hail Mary shots that tie the game for overtime. Who can resist being sucked in by such complete and utter drama? It’s pretty potent stuff.

With so much attention paid to the Games, every moment will be captured on camera and every movement examined under a microscope.

There will be literally thousands of foreign journalists and photographers in attendance. The downside of the guaranteed, predictable media presence: you can count on others muscling in for some of the attention.

Sure, at face value, the Games are all about sport. But tune in to any of the coverage leading up to the games and you gain a starkly different idea of things.

With the eyes of the world predictably turning towards Sochi, so much coverage gets warped away from the sports and diverted to politics. There’s always some point to be made.

When the Americans announce that their Olympic delegation to Sochi will include several prominent gay athletes and no Barack Obama, it’s to make a statement about gay rights.

When Vladimir Putin, the alligator-wrestling, ancient Greek urn-discovering, skydiving Russian president makes the Sochi Olympics his latest pet project, it’s a matter of personal ego boosting.

And when Canada’s Own the Podium reveals that the country is expected to win more medals than it did in its best-ever finish at the Vancouver Olympics, it’s about chest thumping.

The Olympics are about sports, but there is a whole lot of politics involved as well.

It might be naïve to assume differently, considering the amount of coverage given the Games, but the sideshows and the finger-wagging that have accompanied them take away from a spotlight otherwise enjoyed by the athletes.

For many of those competing, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The athletes headed to Sochi have devoted their lives to making it there.

You’d figure we could give them the stage for a couple weeks.


Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is enrolled in the journalism program at Carleton University. He can be reached by email at



Organizations: National Defence, Carleton University

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottawa, Quebec City Halifax Trenton Portugal Cove South Canada Saguenay Trois-Rivières Nova Scotia Monterey

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