Olympic cheerleading stains journalists’ credibility

Jim Van HorneThe Winter Olympic Games are more about marketing  and corporations than athletes — and journalists should not become part of all the hype and hoopla, argues Jim Van Horne.

In a bygone era, when one thought about the Olympic Games, summer or winter, the first words that came to mind were “amateur athletes.”

The word amateur meant something then. Athletes competed for the love of the game, the laurel wreath and the coveted gold, silver or bronze medals.

But that was a long, long time ago. Today, the word “amateur” is no longer used at the Olympics, with countries sending their best professional athletes to exotic locations to represent their nations and bring home the glory.

With that medal, invariably, comes a healthy monetary bonus. That is the way of the world we live in.

The price of covering these games is also increasing. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is constantly looking for ways to make sure its overflowing coffers remain just that — overflowing. Media companies are now spending hundreds of millions of dollars for the right to cover the games. They’re also looking for ways to recoup their investment and make a profit.

They are coming up with new ways to expand their coverage — to the point where you’ll be able to watch the games in February on your cellphone, in a movie theatre or even on the boring old television.

Who pays for all the coverage? Hopefully, major corporations with their advertising dollars. And that’s where the vicious cycle comes in. The corporations want a big bang for their buck, so they come up with novel ways to recoup their investment.

Take a look at the Olympic Torch relay that’s been winding its way across the country. RBC and Coca-Cola are two of the major sponsors. They supply flags and banners to the locals to wave them in front of television cameras as the torch passes by. It’s called “brand recognition.”

They also curry the favour of the electronic and print media for coverage of this so-called ritual.

And they get plenty of it. Check out The Globe and Mail. It’s been filling page three every day with the latest torch news. The Globe has even had some of its reporters carry the torch. Some, like Stephen Brunt, have been critical of the Olympics and the IOC for many years. Doesn’t that smell like a conflict of interest? Will these same reporters cover the games with the same objectivity now that they have been “stained” by the corporate banner of the Olympics?

And what about the radio and television reporters and commentators who have carried the torch? Tell me what Brian Williams has done during all the games he has covered to deserve to be a torch bearer? He’s done his job hosting the games and being highly critical of the druggies and cheaters who have disgraced not only our country, but other nations, as well. He did what he was being paid to do.

Will he have the same objectivity in Vancouver? Maybe he will, but I believe whatever he says from now on will be tainted
because he, along with many other journalists, has been soiled by the corporate climate that has taken over the games.

There are many who deserved the right to carry the Olympic torch across this country. There have also been many denied the opportunity because of the journalists who were promoted by their employers to give their coverage a higher profile — all in the name of the almighty dollar.

Jim Van Horne is currently the television co-ordinator at the College of Sports Media and is involved with a number of networks on a freelance basis. He was the first commentator and anchor of the early edition of TSN’s Sportscentre in 1984 and from 2003 thru 2006 he anchored the evening newscasts for Rogers Sportsnet. He has covered three Olympic Games.