I still remember that day. My eyes were glued onto the live televised announcement of which city would host the 2008 summer games. My understanding was it was a two-horse race, between Beijing and Toronto. But for an event that tries its best to separate itself from politics, the decision to hold the games in China was arguably strongly political (others would point to its huge market potential). Now this isn’t an entry of sour grapes (probably the first and only time I will ever use that phrase), in retrospect I’m in fact glad that the Olympics didn’t happen in my backyard. As awesome as it may have been to have the opportunity to watch some events live (in person and in the same time zone), have the city filled with excitement, and engulfed in this “Olympic Spirit” everyone is talking about – it probably wouldn’t have had the same allure, at least for me. Call it under “the grass is always greener on the other side” mentality, but I just can’t see the city of Toronto improving upon, or even matching the way Beijing has hosted the games.
But let me consider this thought even further, what if the 29th Olympic games in fact happened in the city of Toronto?
Would the Skydome, ahem… the Rogers Centre evoke the same feelings of wonderment as Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium? I mean it is the first stadium to have a fully-retractable dome – I can see it now, a crowd of tens of thousands looking up, mesmerized for 20 minutes as the roof opens and closes.
But hey, maybe we could`ve somehow converted our local museum to an athletic venue?
And maybe even turned a local college into an aquatic centre?
Would the government ask the city’s Chinese residents to step up their etiquette game, and not be so loud? It sure would make strolling on Spadina a weirdly peaceful and tranquil experience.
Would Toronto follow past Olympics cities in shipping its panhandlers off to its neighbours?
But as “in your face” as some panhandlers in this city can be, I don’t have much of a problem with them. They sure do make eating at food courts and subway rides a whole lot more interesting. But if Toronto did get the games, I would have fully supported getting “charitable panhandling” off our streets. If you’ve walked anywhere in the vicinity of downtown Toronto, you’ve probably encountered a number of SickKids volunteers asking you for donations. Ironically I’ve found them a lot more aggressive than the traditional panhandler. They’re definitely almost impossible to avoid, usually having two volunteers at each end of the sidewalk, and yes another two across the street. Even charitable foundations are moving in on the homeless’ only form of income.
Now how about Canada’s medal count? Would our country have made the same push for gold as the Chinese have leading up these games?
Well as of right now, we’ve already trumped our 12 medals from Athens, with 13 under our belt (well now 15 at the time of this post). And hey, that is only around 70 medals short of the leading US and Chinese contingents.
Would the Canadian gymnastics team be as praised and successful as the Chinese men’s and women’s team have in these games? No and no. The sad part is, we probably don’t even have a reserve of seven year old girls (or even 33-year-olds) ready to grab us some medals. Thus, the results would probably have been no different. Though clearly, much of the intrigue behind China’s success would be lost – there’s something to be said about gold medal performances in front of your home crowd.
And if the 1976 Montreal Olympics are of any indication (Canada = 0 gold medals), it would be safe to say that Canada would have fared no differently than they are currently in the medal standings.
Realistically the only Canadian athletes that carried gold medal pressure were the men’s eight rowing team. And I guess medal expectation could be extended to the rest of Canada’s rowers, but even in these events, we sit 3rd in medal counts. Definitely nowhere near the ballpark of dominance.
Would Michael Phelps have made history with his eight gold medals? Sure. But the dude could’ve swam at your local rec-centre and it wouldn’t have taken from the excitement and drama surrounding this feat. The same could be said about Bolt.
What hilarious racial commentary would the Spanish basketball team make through their team photo?
My guess would be posing in front of an igloo, wearing hockey helmets, smiling with chipped and missing teeth. Or even better, dressing up as mounties.
(Which brings me to a side point…shouldn’t Canada dominate any sport with hockey in the name? – or at least not be owned by Pakistan)
What interesting cultural side-stories would television spots use as fillers? A feature about how the CN Tower used to be the tallest free-standing structure on land? Perhaps a tour of a castle (that’s right a castle)? But I guess we do have our own “Great Wall of China,” though something tells me it just isn’t the same.
Ok. Now for the political controversy. It’s no secret that China is filled with them. From the US president’s criticism of Chinese repression, to the “free Tibet” protests that have been occurring even before the opening ceremonies. There’s no doubt to the fact that these controversies have only brought more attention to the Olympic games. What political issue would Toronto have brought to the table?
Quebec sovereignty. The old Francophone vs. Anglophone debate. Much like Tibet, Quebec wants out, at least maybe some of them. The difference is that the people of Quebec were given the chance to vote in favour of their independence, twice in fact, in which it was refused by the majority both times. I’m no expert on international political affairs, but something tells me that Tibetans would have voted differently if given the opportunity. Therefore the political angle, is much less compelling to say the least. Not to mention how less compelling the Quebec flag is to Tibet’s.
So all in all, a Toronto 2008 Olympic games, would have simply been a watered-down Beijing.
In all seriousness I’m sure that Toronto would be a totally different city if it had won the bid. But in reality it would have put money into development that the city didn’t, and doesn’t have. I mean the city can barely keep school pools open, not to mention severe problems in simply maintaining a public transportation system to even get to these closed facilities. In other words don’t hold your breath if you believe that the next Michael Phelps is going to be from Toronto.
And who knows? The Toronto games, might have been Montreal relived.
A Toronto 2008 Olympic Summer Games, would have undoubtedly been convenient for its local, and North American viewers. But a convenient games, doesn’t necessarily make for a compelling one. In fact, as the Beijing Olympics’ TV ratings show, convenience has nothing to do with it.