Would it kill Canada?s sports media to look on the bright side for once? Their unbridled pessimism and selective coverage is ruining so-called amateur athletics for the rest of us.
Just look at the recent coverage of the World Track and Field Championships in Edmonton last month. Rather than focusing on the many personal bests achieved by our athletes, the media chose to focus on the sad fact that Canada was shut out of the medal counts on our home turf, the unfortunate steroid use of runner Venolyn Clarke, and the retirement of sprinter Donovan Bailey, our most renowned track and field star ? with no one to take his place in the blocks.
Most of this coverage was negative and suggested that something was rotten in the state of amateur sports in Canada. Similar criticisms were brought up last year during the Sydney Olympics, which were called "embarrassing" by more than one columnist.
(I?m not talking about the CBC?s coverage of course, but then they have a slightly different and less profit-driven mandate than the other news carriers. They did their best to point out the positives and give Canadians something else to think about besides how badly we suck at track and field. Kudos.)
Even worse than the negative coverage is the no coverage.
Like the kind Victoria?s Roland Green and Campbellville, Ontario?s, Chrissy Redden got when they won the last World Cup cross country mountain bike races of the season two weekends ago ? in Canada at Mont-Sainte-Anne no less. This was Redden?s first ever gold medal and Green became the first male Canadian ever to the overall World Cup title.
It was a great day for Canada, and our national and regional sports journalists either buried the story in the box scores or simply did not cover this event at all. I guess it was to be expected: Alison Sydor, another Victoria racer, won this championship twice in the past few years, and she still competes in relative obscurity.
What gives? You?d think after all the concerns about Canada?s lacklustre performance at the Olympics and the track championships, the media would be excited to have something like this to put on page one.
Canadians should feel good about this. If there was any justice, Green would be a household name, and every little girl with a bicycle would be dreaming of becoming the next Redden or Sydor.
It?s not like mountain biking is an obscure hobby. It?s one of the fastest growing sports in the world and in Canada, with an estimated one million bikes in the country and sales still going strong. At Mont-Sainte-Anne, more than 34,000 people turned out to support Green and Redden ? that?s more spectators than turn out to any two Vancouver Canucks hockey games.
And yet the spotlights stayed conspicuously off. Instead, Sammy Sosa?s homerun streak, Tiger Woods? slump, Formula One racing, NASCAR, the usual hockey contract disputes, the NFL referees strike, the Air Canada Cup, the Nations Cup (more golf), the rematch between Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman, the U.S. Open of tennis, and countless other stories dominated the sports headlines. Why?
The bottom line is that Canadians only seem to care about our athletes when the spotlight is on. And who turns on the spotlights? The media, of course, but only when the event is big enough to warrant our attention. For most of the time, sometimes for four-year stretches, our athletes train and compete in darkness and relative obscurity, only seeing the light of day when it?s for all the marbles.
It?s no secret that funding is a problem for our athletes, but all the sports columnists in the country aren?t going to change things by pointing fingers at the government.
When the spotlight is on our athletes, like in an Olympic year, the money rolls in. When the spotlight goes off, the money dries up. It seems to me that if the Canadian sports media paid a little more attention to Canadian sports and athletes, the funding, especially from corporate sources, would flow a little more regularly.
Funding is only part of the equation. Every athlete will tell you that fan support, whether it?s on the sidelines cheering or back home watching the event, is an excellent incentive to go just a little bit harder.
It literally takes thousands of hours of dedicated training and self sacrifice to produce a high performance athlete. That?s a lot of early mornings, late nights, and usually a lot of trips to the doctor and physiotherapist. The least we can do is give our athletes their due.
Unfortunately, that means getting the mainstream sports media involved, and they don?t seem all that interested in turning the spotlight away from the mainstream just now. Shame on them.
? Andrew Mitchell