Opinion » Editorial


Winning one for Canada


In 1998 the members of the Canadian Olympic Association chose Vancouver-Whistler to be Canada's bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, but it wasn't an easy choice.

Vancouver received 26 votes on the first ballot to Quebec City's 25. Calgary was dropped from the second ballot after garnering 21 votes in the first round. In the second round Vancouver received 40 votes to Quebec's 31.

Calgary's primary argument in 1998 was that it could put on the Games for very little money because it had all the facilities in place from the 1988 Winter Olympics. That wasn't quite true – Calgary's plans called for millions of dollars to erect wind screens next to the Nordic jumps and the development of a new downhill course, for instance – but the argument hit home with many COA members.

Quebec's case centred around the fact that it is a true winter city and that because there are sports facilities and national training centres in Calgary, similar facilities were needed in Eastern Canada.

The Vancouver-Whistler position was quite simple: based on technical merit, of the three Canadian candidates which one has the best chance of winning the support of IOC members?

Fast forward four and a half years to July 2, 2003 in Prague. Vancouver-Whistler claimed a slim 56-53 vote victory over Pyeongchang (again on the second ballot) to win the right to host the 2010 Games. In the press conference immediately following the announcement IOC President Jacques Rogge stated: "Obviously the best bid won."

But if it was that obvious to the IOC president, why was the margin of victory so slim? Indeed, there were 112 IOC members eligible to vote in Prague, but only 109 voted on the second ballot. The three members who chose not to vote could have been the difference between having the 2010 Olympics in Canada or Asia.

That Pyeongchang did so well was a surprise to many, but not Rogge. Gerhard Heiberg, the chair of the committee that evaluated the three candidate cities, said that before he arrived in Pyeongchang the feeling was the race was between Vancouver and Salzburg. "But Pyeongchang has excellent people in charge and excellent venues planned," Heiberg said.

All three candidate cities worked the IOC members in Prague – the café in the lobby of the Hilton in the days before July 2 was like Berlin during the Cold War, with one-on-one meetings among potential allies and potential foes at every second table.

Still, the Koreans were by far the most active in the subtle lobbying process prior to the vote. The Pyeongchang logo was on a daily weather report distributed in the media centre. The Korean company Samsung (an Olympic sponsor) also happened to sponsor a fun run and concert in Prague just prior to the IOC meeting and the banners for the event, with the slogan "Run together, Praha" and the Samsung name, were all over town. The Koreans also announced during the IOC meeting in Prague that the North and South Korean teams would march together at the opening of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

The Pyeongchang presentation to the IOC followed two not so subtle themes: 1) Having the Games in Korea would help to unite the North and South; 2) With a billion people within a 1,000 kilometre radius of Pyeongchang there is a huge market for winter sports and lots of money to be made in Asia.

Appealing on humanitarian and financial levels is a slick and tempting combination, as the final vote shows.

Wayne Gretzky was asked by a Canadian reporter at the press conference following the vote how it felt, as an athlete who was used to competing head to head with others on a level playing field, to go into a competition where so much was determined by politics. Gretzky's answer reflected the tone of the whole Canadian presentation in Prague.

"I was raised in a family where I was taught to do the best I can," Gretzky said. "When I got here John (Furlong) and Jack (Poole) had the same philosophy: let's do the best we can and have faith that the IOC will choose the best candidate."

He went on to say that he felt bad for Korea and Austria to have lost but there is only one winner.

Gretzky's very Canadian response was appreciated by Rogge.