Canada’s only International Olympic Committee member has in the past defended his colleagues’ choice of this city as host for the coming Summer Olympic Games. But with the Games only a few hours away, Montreal lawyer Dick Pound today finds himself at the centre of a five-ring controversy that is surely leaving a sour taste in the mouths of his proud hosts.
In a group that prides itself on being politically correct and that’s led by a button-down surgeon from Belgium, the free-spirited Pound once again finds himself standing out in a crowd after levelling criticism at the Beijing torch relay and at the way IOC higher-ups handled a controversy over Internet access for Olympic journalists.
Pound specializes in ruffling feathers with his quick wit and willingness to engage his sharp tongue. Tuesday, during an otherwise routine IOC session, he suggested the Beijing Games might have faced political boycotts if not for the goodwill that poured in from around the world after the May earthquake in Sichuan province.
Pound said the relay should never have been allowed to be run outside China because outsiders were sure to protest the country’s handling of human rights issues and the situation in Tibet.
“This came very close to becoming a disaster,” he said as Chinese organizing committee leaders sat in silence at the front of the posh convention room at a hotel just a few blocks from Tiananmen Square. “The risks were obvious and should have been assessed a little more carefully."
In addition to taking on his IOC colleagues for allowing the torch relay to go outside China, the former McGill University chancellor blasted the committee’s handling of press complaints about China’s blocking of Internet sites it doesn’t like. Pound riled up Canada’s hockey community a couple years ago when, as head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, he suggested that as many as one-third of NHL players might be using performance-enhancing drugs.
IOC chief Jacques Rogge defeated Pound and a couple other candidates in an IOC presidential race in 2001, just days after Beijing beat Toronto and other cities for the 2008 Games A former IOC vice president, Pound has never been a fan of Rogge’s cautious approach at the Olympic helm.
Whether others take up his position and start firing away at the president remains to be seen. But for one day, at least, he seemed to have the leader of the Olympic movement back on his heels.
Got to talking with colleague Dave Perkins about Pound’s remarks over dinner at a terrific restaurant on Dongzhemin Tuesday night when it suddenly occurred to me (I’ve only covered Olympic issues for 20 years; gimme a break) that Canada is a country known for polite and reticent folks. Yet two of the most outspoken IOC members of the past couple decades come from Canada; Pound and former IOC member Paul Henderson of Toronto.
Henderson, of course, led Toronto’s 1996 Summer Olympic bid, which many said was destined for Athens but which Henderson thought – rightly, as it turned out - was North America’s for the taking. He was undone by a lack of support at Toronto city council and perhaps by some interesting bid work by Atlanta bid officials.
Henderson is the first to call a spade a spade, and he has consistently blasted away at bureaucrats who starve Canadian amateur athletes but then happily hook their wagons onto the Olympic bus and ride around to photo ops, their arms draped around the very athletes they failed to support. And good for him.
Somebody’s got to push the pencil-pushers in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park (and at City Hall and probably the school board), and Henderson’s not one to shy away.
Although he’s no longer an official IOC member, he still knows anyone and everyone in the movement. And he’s a huge supporter of the southern Ontario Pan American Games bid for 2015, figuring that an Olympics might never come our way but that the Pan Ams could bring some desperately needed upgrades to leaking swimming pools and deteriorating gyms and tracks.
Funny that a nice country like ours would spawn both Henderson and Pound. But good for us.
A cab dropped a couple of us off in the wrong spot for dinner the other night. We knew we had the right street, Dongzhemin, but it was littered with restaurants and we had no idea how to find the address we wanted. We showed the Chinese script someone had written out for us in the media centre and showed it to a guy on the street. In Toronto, the guy would’ve pointed in the right direction and left it at that. (In Paris, he’d have pointed in the wrong direction just to have a little fun, but that’s another story). Anyway, the young gentleman nodded and started walking with us. Every 50 or 100 yards he’d turn around to see where we were, and he kept pointing further down the street. We walked a block. Then another block. Then crossed a main street. Then walked another block. Then another. Finally, we find the right number and the right place. We offer up about $20 Canadian and he refuses – firmly – and walks away. My God, these people are remarkable.
Erin McLean of Whitby, one of the Canadian softball team members, is pretty happy to be in Beijing. Asked how it feels to be at the Olympics on a scale of 1 to 10, she replied, “It’s about a 12. It’s about as cool as it gets right now.”
McLean was to get a tour of the village on Wednesday and said her dad and aunts and uncles, as well as a couple of friends from back home, will be coming to watch her.
Australian Olympic Committee vice president Peter Montgomery was asked about Aussie runner Tamsin Lewis saying she’s afraid she’ll have to run against drug cheats at the Beijing Games, thus hurting her chances at a medal.
“Tamsin is not known for hiding her light under a bushel,” he said.
Mind you, that’s not as good as my favourite Australian journalist, Jacqueline Magnay of the Sydney Morning Herald. Jacquie was decked out in a bright red, flowing dress the other night for the opening of the IOC session.
Asked about her attire, Magnay smiled and said she was simply getting a little “frocked up” for the occasion.
Vancouver 2010 chief John Furlong revealed Wednesday that General Motors Place, home for hockey during the Winter Olympics, will officially be known as Canada Hockey Place once the Games begin. IOC rules forbid advertising on venues, so the name on the outside of the building will have to be covered up. That’s one thing if you’re an “outsider” to the Olympics. But GM happens to be an official sponsor of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. But IOC rules are IOC rules, and the General Motors section of the outside sign will have to go under wraps once the Games start.
FRIES WITH THAT?
We’re beginning to like Canadian archer Jay Lyon. Lyon was joking the other day about how it’s still ice-skating season in Canada. He also was asked about his fitness regimen.
“I’m not much of an athlete,” he said. “I eat a lot of McDonald’s.”
McDonald’s being an official sponsor of the Olympics, methinks the comments did not go over well with the IOC’s sponsorship people.
God, we love the China Daily. The newspaper had some real gems the other day.
One report told the story of a man in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, has been blind since the age of eight but enjoys sewing. Instead of asking others to thread needles for him, the man, Gao Zhongsheng, has taught himself to do the job with his tongue.
The paper also reported that a woman in Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, was driven off a bus when her “loud and prolonged” phone call irritated other passengers. The woman is said to have used foul language and the paper said she “punctuated (her conversation) with raucous peals of laughter.” (We could use some vigilantes like that on the TTC).